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AK: Denali National Park wolf buffer bill goes to Alaska House floor

Sam Friedman

FAIRBANKS — Alaska’s House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on a bill to ban wolf trapping and hunting near Denali National Park and Preserve.

Sponsored by Rep. Andrew Josephson, D-Anchorage, House Bill 105 would create a buffer zone on the northeast side of the park similar to a buffer that Alaska’s Board of Game dissolved in 2010.

Josephson made an economic argument for his proposed law.

“In 2013, Denali had 530,921 visitors who contributed $513,355,000 to Alaska’s economy. The opportunity to view wolves is a big incentive to visit the park,” he wrote in the bill’s sponsor statement. “Unfortunately, wolf viewing success has declined dramatically.”

The state hasn’t taken up this issue in recent years, but the buffer zone has been a perennial topic before Alaska’s Board of Game.

Hunters and trappers kill about four wolves per year in the proposed buffer zone area.

The issue frequently gets national attention because of the park’s popularity as a wildlife viewing destination.

Hunting and trapping organizations historically have opposed the buffer zone on grounds that it expands extensive lands that are closed to hunting in Alaska.

This year, one of the first voices to come out against Josephson’s bill was Rep. David Talerico, a Republican who represents the Denali area.

“In a time of budget challenges I don’t think this is a wise stewardship of state resources,” Talerico said in a letter opposing the bill.

“Six million acres is enough area for Denali National Park. I don’t think we need to make it larger.”

The entirety of Denali National Park and Preserve does cover more than 6 million acres, but the National Park section that’s closed to nonsubsistence hunting measures only 4.7 million acres.

Talerico pointed out that poor wolf-viewing statistics in recent years haven’t hurt visitor numbers. Park attendance has been up every year since 2012, and hit a record of 599,822 in 2016.

As originally written, the bill would have created the “Gordon Haber Denali Wolf Special Management Area,” named after a wolf-prey biologist who died in a plane crash in the park in 2009. But the bill was amended after the sponsor concluded it would be simpler to close the area to hunting without designating a special area.

The bill is scheduled go to the house floor today. No similar bill has been passed in the state senate.