Fewer Wolves Counted in Denali National Park
FAIRBANKS — The number of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve is the lowest in 25 years, which has supporters howling to stop trapping and hunting of wolves on state land just outside the northeast boundary of the park.
Researchers counted just 57 wolves in nine packs during the October survey that was posted on the National Park Service’s website on Tuesday. That’s down from 72 wolves in eight packs last year, a 24 percent decrease, and represents a 63 percent decline from an all-time high population of 143 wolves in 2007.
Not surprisingly, groups and individuals who have been trying to protect wolves in the park seized on the survey to rekindle their efforts to reinstitute a protective buffer zone along the northeast boundary of the park near Healy. The buffer zone, which prohibited the hunting and trapping of wolves on state land adjacent to the park, was eliminated in 2010 by the Alaska Board of Game.
The survey results “confirm fears expressed earlier this year by wildlife conservation advocates and biologists regarding the continued take of park wolves when they cross the park’s northeastern boundary onto state lands,” Rick Steiner, an Anchorage marine biologist who has picked up the Denali Park wolf torch that was carried by independent biologist Gordon Haber for many years before he died in a plane crash four years ago.
Citing the survey numbers, Steiner sent an email to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell on Tuesday asking her to use her authority to issue an emergency closure for trapping and hunting in what used to be the buffer zone. The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, another group that has advocated for the return of the buffer zone, did the same, according to president Tina Brown.
“When you see a dramatic decline like this it’s common sense something should be done,” Brown said. “This is one step the Board of Game or commissioner could take to address the decline of wolves in the park and in doing so would most likely increase viewing of wolves in the park.”
Similar requests and petitions submitted to Campbell in May and the Alaska Board of Game in September and October, before the trapping season opened Nov. 1, were denied because neither Campbell or the game board deemed the situation an emergency.
Campbell couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday but Dale Rabe, deputy director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Juneau, said nothing has changed and the state isn’t likely to take any action. The state doesn’t manage wolves inside the park and wolf populations on state land outside the park appear to be healthy, Rabe said.
“The commissioner and department have looked at the viability of populations outside the park and inside the park relative to trapping and harvest records and concluded that there are no conservation or sustainability questions there,” Rabe said. “Without that the commissioner is not inclined to use her emergency closure authority.”