Denali Wolf Update: A little good news, more bad news

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game approved an Emergency Order closing the wolf hunting/trapping season adjacent to Denali National Park. However, the proposed Denali Buffer legislation is stalled in the Legislature, and controversy sparked over a hunter’s braggadocio photos of dead wolves east of the Park.

First, a little good news: ADF&G issued an Emergency Order immediately closing the Stampede Trail corridor (state land along the northeast boundary of the Park, home to the most easily viewed wolves along the Park Road) to hunting and trapping wolves.

A formal request for the Order was submitted March 24 based on information from Park biologists that five radio-collared Park wolves already had been killed by hunting/trapping this winter. Because only about one in four wolves are collared, there was concern that the total harvest would be much higher – and unfortunately it is. According to the ADF&G, eight wolves were killed so far this winter in the Stampede area, twice the average annual number. That total will increase again when the final state harvest report and spring Park wolf survey are complete.

According to the Order, hunting in the area was closed effective April 2, and the trapping season will end April 9. The seasons were scheduled to end April 15 and April 30, respectively. Trappers have 30 days after the season to report their harvest, so the final tally of wolves killed won’t be known until mid-May.

One of the wolves (apparently) trapped was the alpha male of the Riley Creek pack, which claims territory along the Park Road west of the entrance. Sightings of members of the Riley Creek pack increased the likelihood of visitors seeing wolves from about 5 percent in prior years to 17 percent last summer. Loss of the alpha male is critical to the future of the pack: the remaining wolves may fail to produce pups this spring, or disburse altogether. In recent years the loss of key breeding wolves resulted in the demise of the Grant Creek and Toklat packs; both had territories adjacent to the Riley Creek wolves.

AWA and other groups solicited comments to ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten in support of the emergency closure request. Our concerns were heard in the administration, although in practice the closure shaves only a very minimal amount of time off of the full hunting/trapping seasons.

Bad news: Just a day before the emergency closure request was submitted, the Alaska Senate Resources Committee “set aside” House Bill 105, which would establish a no wolf hunting/trapping buffer on state lands adjacent to Denali’s northeastern boundary. That action stalls – and more than likely kills – the legislation.

Again, AWA and others solicited public comments in favor of HB105 for the Committee hearing. Many were received – so many that Committee Chair Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage) actively solicited comments from the opposition. In a public online trapping forum, Sen. Giessel wrote to Fairbanks trapper Al Barrette:

“…If there are others who oppose the bill, please have them send emails, Al.

I have literally hundreds of support emails…and your one opposition email.”

Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) sponsored the bill and worked tirelessly to get it passed by the full House last May, which was a rare win for pro-wildlife legislation. He predicted it was a long shot to move ahead in the more conservative-minded Senate, and that proved true at its first committee hurdle. Nevertheless we owe Andy a heartfelt “thank you” for his heroic work on this and other bills supporting wildlife and the environment.

Bad news, illustrated. The Denali wolf controversy flared on social media last weekend when graphic photos circulated of a hunter proudly posing with an AK-15 semiautomatic rifle, snowmachine and 10 dead wolves. The two photos can be viewed on our website at:http://akwildlife.org/february-2018-wolf-kill-photos/

(Warning: they are graphic and disturbing.)

The initial anonymous email accompanying the photos implied they were Denali wolves killed in the nearby Healy area. When queried, ADF&G and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers issued a press release asserting that the wolves were not killed in the Stampede corridor/Denali area, but were harvested legally about 70 miles east of Denali in February. (Therefore it is unknown if the wolves denned in or could have been seen in the Park.)

However, without a buffer to protect wolves from hunting/trapping, such killing is legal – and certainly does occur – adjacent to the Park boundary.

Furthermore, such egregious killing is all too common statewide under the guise of Alaska’s ongoing Intensive Management (predator control) programs utilizing extended harvest seasons and liberal (or non-existent) harvest limits across multiple species, including bears and coyotes. This “slaughter”, not to be confused with reasonably regulated “hunting” using the principles of fair-chase, is commonplace across Alaska. It’s just not often the public is able to see the perpetrators’ brazen bragging.

If you have not already done so, please sign the online petition, started by Among Wolvesco-author Marybeth Holleman in 2015, asking the federal and state governments to agree to create a no-wolf-kill buffer adjacent to Denali. To date 360,000+ people have signed on.  https://www.thepetitionsite.com/423/700/229/halt-the-killing-of-denali-national-park-wolves/ 

Finally, again, thank you for supporting the Denali wolves and AWA. We are sorry we don’t have better news to report, but accomplishing anything “pro-wildlife” in this state where most politicians are openly “pro hunter/trapper” is an uphill struggle. However, there are still other avenues to pursue, and we will always keep up the fight for these wolves and all of Alaska’s wildlife.

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