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Denali wolves need protection from hunting, protesters say

Wildlife, including wolves, is a main attraction for visitors in Denali National Park. (Associated Press)
Wildlife, including wolves, is a main attraction for visitors in Denali National Park. (Associated Press)

PREDATORS -- Alaska wolf advocates unhappy with state-authorized hunting and trapping for wolves around the borders of Denali National Park are stepping their protests up the line to the governor.

This tactic has been used elsewhere by wildlife advocates on other issues, including lethal wolf control in Washington state.

Tired of having their concerns not addressed by Alaska’s Board of Game, opponents of wolf hunting near Denali National Park sought the attention of Gov. Bill Walker last week with a protest in downtown Fairbanks, writes Sam Friedman of the News-Miner.

"About two dozen people assembled at noon outside the 7th Avenue state offices building," he wrote. They held signs and periodically howled likes wolves, drawing puzzled looks from people headed into the building.

For perspective, Friedman said by email, "Twenty-plus people is actually considered a decent-sized street protest in Fairbanks; at least that was the newsroom consensus."

Their signs addressed Walker directly with words like “Gov. step up” and “Bill, it’s time to act.” One used Walker’s Tlingit name of Gooch Waak, which means “wolf eyes.”

Friedman writes:

The protesters want Walker to order an emergency closure for the wolf hunting season near Denali National Park. The season opened Wednesday.

A Walker spokeswoman said Wednesday that she hadn't had a chance to ask the governor for a response to the protest, but that Walker plans to meet with one of the protesters today during his visit to Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley State Fair.

Gray wolves roam abundantly through much of Alaska but in recent years have become much less common inside Denali National Park — one of the main places visitors come to Alaska to see them. The protesters argue that to protect Denali’s natural ecosystem and reputation as a place to spot wolves, wolf hunting should be stopped along the Stampede Trail corridor, a peninsula of state-managed land that juts into the park northwest of Healy.

The state instituted a buffer zone in 2000 to prevent wolf hunting close to the park boundary, but the Alaska Board of Game repealed it in 2010.

Fairbanks-based organization Alaskans For Wildlife organized Wednesday's demonstration. The group has about 40 members around Alaska, according to its president, Jim Kowalsky, who has a long history in environmental advocacy as a founder of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

The group held the protest because the seven-member Board of Game has repeatedly voted down their requests for an emergency reintroduction of the wolf buffer zone. Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten has also rejected their demands for emergency wolf-hunting closures, with the exception of the spring 2015 season, which Cotten closed two weeks early.

Despite limited movement so far from the Walker administration, Kowalsky was somewhat optimistic Wednesday that the demonstration would change policy.

“Hope springs eternal, even on the opening day of the season for hunting wolves on the Stampede Trail,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s becoming a scandal for the governor and I hope he understands that.”

This spring the killing of wolves in a particularly famous wolf pack has given the buffer zone campaign fresh attention. Large national and international publications, including The Washington Post and British newspaper The Guardian, published articles about the East Fork Pack this week.

The East Fork Pack, also known as the Toklat Pack, has been the subject of National Park Service studies since the 1930s. The pack dropped from 14 wolves in March 2015 to perhaps zero in July 2016, according to the Park Service’s official narrative of the pack history. The agency attributes the loss of wolves to factors such as trapping, hunting, an animal attack — possibly from a golden eagle — and wolf dispersal to other areas. The Park Service study observed that the loss of the long-researched pack is “unfortunate” but that it doesn’t mean the loss of the pack’s lineage, which lives on in the descendants of East Fork pack that formed or joined other packs.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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