Update: On August 13, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang denied an emergency petition from 60 Alaska residents asking the agency to close wolf hunting and trapping on lands adjacent to Denali National Park. He ruled that an emergency order to stop the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves was not warranted because “no biological” threat to wolves exists. The decision disregards the interests of wildlife watchers who want to view wolves in Denali National Park, even though wildlife-watching tourism in Alaska is a $2 billion industry. Instead, it kowtows to trophy hunters and trappers. Let Gov. Michael Dunleavy know your views on Denali wolf protection and conservation. Ask him to protect Denali’s wolves before it’s too late.
Who among us has not dreamed of traveling to Denali National Park to view wild wolves and other abundant wildlife there? When it comes to wolves, it seems, we’d better hurry, as a troubling new survey shows that it may be too late.
According to a survey last month of park bus drivers, there were only 15 sightings of 25 wolves over a 75-day period between April and July. An astonishing two thirds of the drivers reported seeing no wolves at all. This troubling trend could be the result of several factors, such as wolves killing other wolves, but it could also have resulted from allowing trophy hunting and trapping of wolves along the boundaries of the Park.
In response, over 60 Alaskans submitted an emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Game requesting adoption of an emergency regulation closing state lands along the northeastern boundary of the park to the killing of wolves. As of now, hunting is scheduled to begin on August 10th, and the trapping season starts on November 1.
If adopted, this wouldn’t be the first time that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the area adjacent to the park to wolf hunting. However, previous closures only occurred after pack disruptions caused by the killing of important breeding wolves—too late to prevent disintegration of the packs.
The petition relies on the observations of Denali scientists.
“Studies by Denali National Park wildlife biologists confirmed previously published studies concluding that the hunting/trapping take of a significant breeding individual from a wolf family group (pack) at Denali can cause the family group (pack) to not den and then disband, resulting in a subsequent loss of wolf viewing success.”
This petition seeks to prevent the loss of these wolves before it’s too late—not just for wolves but for the sake of the region. Let there be no mistake: the visitor economy is every bit as much a part of Alaska’s contemporary culture as hunting—and tourists bring substantially more money into the state than do hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that wildlife watchers outnumber hunters in Alaska by a factor of five, and wildlife watching contributes five times more than the amount generated in Alaska from all hunting activity annually.
Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Denali National Park every year hoping to catch a glimpse of a wild wolf—or an even rarer sight of a playful pup. Should wolf sightings prove nonexistent, tourists may have second thoughts and choose other locations where such experiences are still possible.
The lack of wolf sightings may already be diminishing tourism benefits. From 2017 to 2018, visits to the park went from 642,809 in 2017 to 594,660, visitor spending decreased from $632 million to $602 million, jobs decreased from 8,150 to 7,370, and total economic output went from $924 million to $859 million.
Unfortunately, Denali’s wolves aren’t the only wild animals in peril in Alaska. It was only two years ago that Congress and this Administration overturned protections for wolves and other wildlife on 64 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands there. In addition, a similar proposed rule is still pending at the federal level, one that would exert a terrible impact on wildlife on National Park Service lands in the state and run contrary to the federal agency’s legal duties to preserve the natural balance of wildlife in those areas. If passed, this proposed rule would allow killing methods that include the slaying of hibernating mother bears and their cubs in the den, as was shown in the horrific video of convicted poachers Andrew and Owen Renner.
Rather than allow the senseless killing of wolves outside of Denali National Park, the state of Alaska should be doing everything it can to ensure that these beloved and iconic animals thrive—for their own benefit, for the benefit of the ecosystems in which they live, and for the benefit of Alaska’s tourism economy. The Alaska Board of Game should grant this emergency petition and protect the park’s wolves from needless slaughter.