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Wolf Scientist Says Toklat Pack is Decimated

Mary Pemberton / AP / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 4, 2005

Anchorage (AP) -- Trappers are picking off the remaining members of a wolf pack that has strayed from Denali National Park and Preserve onto state land, a researcher who has studied the pack for a decade said Friday.

Gordon Haber, whose work is paid for by the animal rights group Friends of Animals, said it was alarming and he would again appeal to the state for an emergency closure of hunting and trapping in the area.

"All of these wolves have been trapped," Haber said. "This group that has been around for the last 40 years is virtually on its last legs."

Alaska trapping season runs through April 30.

He planned to make a personal appeal to the Alaska Board of Game at its meeting Friday in Anchorage.

The group, known as the Toklat or East Fork wolves, are one of Denali's most visible wolf packs, delighting thousands of park visitors each year.

Haber's account, at this point, is unsubstantiated, said Philip Hooge, an assistant superintendent at Denali. But he said the park was worried enough to send wildlife biologist Tom Meier on a flight Friday to the area where the alpha, or breeding female, was trapped last month.

"Gordon only seeing two individuals is not positive confirmation that they were trapped," Hooge said. "Obviously, we are concerned and we are out looking."

Hooge said the park also had heard reports that a second female in the pack was trapped and a pup was running around with a trap on its leg. Those reports, too, are unconfirmed, he said.

Haber wants the state to issue an emergency hunting and trapping closure where the remaining members of the pack have been seen after the death of the alpha female. It is within a few hundred feet of the park's northeast boundary and on the outside edge of a wolf buffer zone.

The state refused a previous request that Haber made in a letter Feb. 17 to Wayne Regelin, acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Regelin responded five days later in a letter that said the loss of one wolf did not rise to the level of an emergency.

Regelin did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

"Essentially the group has been decimated," Haber said. "Yesterday, I found them right in the middle of the area."

The problem arose Feb. 11 when Haber said the alpha female, or breeding female, was trapped. He and a pilot were on a routine tracking flight when they watched as trapper Coke Wallace loaded the radio-collared wolf onto a sled for the ride to his home 12 miles away, Haber said.

When Haber flew over the area on Wednesday he saw only three members of the original 11-member group. The alpha male, a 2-year-old and a pup were resting on a high ridge inside the park about four or five miles from the trapping site, he said.

On Thursday, he spotted only two members of the group, the alpha male and the 2-year-old. This time they were 10 miles further east and in the middle of the trapping area. The pup was missing, Haber said.

The wolves are being lured to the area by a bait station with the carcass of a large animal, perhaps a horse, Haber said.

"Each time they come back apparently they are being trapped. They don't realize how dangerous the area is," Haber said.

It is unlikely that the other members are alive, especially since they were 2-year-olds and pups, he said.

"There is no reason why they would be separated on their own," Haber said. "They have never been separated in all my previous observations."

Haber said the Toklat group is one of the most visible and most-studied pack in Denali, perhaps dating back to the late 1930s.

Haber said after the alpha female was killed he appealed unsuccessfully to Wallace to pull up his traps and snares, placed on a path cleared by snowmobiles just outside the buffer zone.

Wallace has not returned repeated calls from The Associated Press for comment. He told the Anchorage Daily News that since there are thousands of wolves living in central Alaska the killing of just one has no impact.

"I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "My impact out here is inconsequential."

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