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Wolves Are More Valuable Alive

Letters / Juneau Empire / March 20, 2005

In a recent Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, Coke Wallace (of Denali Saddle Safaris) the trapper responsible for the death of the Toklat alpha female wolf, is quoted as stating that her death was inconsequential.

I would have to seriously disagree. The targeting of Denali's wolves by Mr. Wallace and other local trappers is of serious consequence to the thousands of Alaskan and non-Alaskan visitors and photographers who visit Denali each year.

With the demise of three previous eastern packs since 1995, in all of which trapping was a primary or contributing cause of mortality, wolf observations and photography within Eastern Denali declined dramatically, and did so for years. It may take years for new packs to become established, develop habits that enable them to be observed, and then they have to avoid the yearly gantlet of traps and snares laid near Denali's borders. Unfortunately, like a game of Russian roulette, they eventually lose, Toklat being the latest example.

Over the years, I have been told by park visitors how wolf sightings have significantly enriched their visit to Denali or in fact were the highlight of their entire trip to Alaska. Wolves play an important role, not only biologically within the park, but also in visitor desires, as many come to Denali in the hope of viewing wolves.

One can never guarantee wolf sightings, but one can set the stage for realistic opportunities for visitor viewing, as long as one protects established and long-lived wolf packs. And economically for the state, live Denali wolves are far more valuable to many more people than dead ones.

Why is it that a handful of recreational trappers are allowed to rob thousands of park visitors (including Alaskans) the opportunity to view, enjoy, and photograph Denali's wolves?

And how does this reflect on the state when it does nothing to protect a unique and valued wildlife resource within its primary tourism destination?

Bill Watkins / Denali Park

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