Denali pack’s alpha wolf dies outside buffer
TRAPPED: Game Board debates need for the zone.
The Associated Press
FAIRBANKS — A trapper told the Alaska Board of Game on Friday that he trapped and killed the leader of one of two wolf packs regularly seen by tourists in Denali National Park.
A biologist whose work is supported by an animal rights group said Saturday nine other wolves in the 12-member pack also were unaccounted for.
The wolf had strayed outside a no-trapping, no-hunting buffer zone established by a previous board four years ago to protect a pair of wolf packs that roam in and out of the eastern corner of Alaska’s most famous park.
Sitting before the seven-member board wearing a camouflage ball cap, Brent Keith said he trapped the alpha male of the Mount Margaret pack Wednesday after watching the pack consume a cow moose they had killed less than a half mile from his house.
“I watched them for five days,” Keith said. “They were four-tenths of a mile from my house. I listened to them (howling) every night, and finally I went out and put some snares out there.
“I figured I’d tell you about it before you read it in the paper,” Keith said.
Biologist Gordon Haber, whose work has been supported by Friends of Animals, observes the pack frequently and said that as of Feb. 17, the wolves seemed fine. But in flights last week, he could locate only two of the 12 wolves, and he fears others may have been killed — if not by Keith, perhaps by another trapper.
“It’s basically that group has been decimated,” Haber said in a telephone interview Saturday. He has argued that the buffer zone to protect the wolves was inadequate.
Friday was the first of at least two days of public testimony at a meeting to review and revise hunting and trapping regulations throughout the Interior, including possible elimination of the Denali Buffer Zone.
The 55-square-mile zone has been a hot-button issue since it was created four years ago by a game board appointed by then-Gov. Tony Knowles.
The more hunter- and trapper-friendly board put in place by current Gov. Frank Murkowski a year ago is now looking at several proposals to dissolve the buffer.
Trappers and hunters like Keith argue there is no biological justification for the buffer and that it is an unnecessary restriction to placate animal-rights activists.
“There are plenty of wolves running around in that area,” Keith said, adding that at least five packs roam the area he traps. “These wolves will replace themselves.
“I think people should be concerned about the caribou herd in that area,” he said, referring to the struggling Denali Caribou Herd. “Nothing is going to replace that caribou herd when it’s gone.”
Wildlife viewers and animal-rights groups, meanwhile, contend that the buffer zone helps protect a valuable aspect of Alaska’s tourism industry.
Vic Van Ballenberghe of Anchorage, a wildlife biologist who was on the Game Board when the buffer zone was created, urged the board to keep it in place even if it is too small to fully protect the wolves.
“It’s the one spot in the state where you stand a decent chance of seeing wolves or hearing them howl,” he said. “It represents a high value of viewing that needs to be preserved.
“If you rank the animals we have in Alaska and the demand to see those animals, wolves rank near the top of the list.”
Board member Pete Buist said each time a wolf pack gets displaced by hunting, trapping or natural mortality, another pack moves in. Five wolf packs have lived in the area in the last 20 years, he said.
“Do you think tourists can tell the difference between those packs?” Buist asked.
But Van Ballenberghe said it takes a pack of wolves time to become tolerant of humans so they can be viewed on a reliable basis, and constant turnover of packs hinders viewing opportunities.
“So what you’re saying is the buffer zone will allow tourists a better chance of seeing a habituated wolf?” Buist asked. “Is that what you mean by ‘tolerant’?”
Defenders of Wildlife representative Karen Deatherage said her group is working with the National Park Service to educate park visitors about viewing wolves to decrease habituation issues.