Anchorage, Alaska - It was legal, but the shooting of a male wolf has upset many wildlife viewers and photographers. The incident happened last weekend when a hunter led by a master guide killed the animal near Cantwell.
The alpha male of the well-known Toklat pack in Denali National Park has been photographed thousands and thousands of times. His dark coloring made him easily identifiable and a great subject for pictures.
Although the wolf was legally shot outside the park, emotions are still running high.
"The wildlife viewing community, I think, is in mourning, for one thing," said John Toppenberg of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "A lot of people had an up-close and personal relationship with that alpha male wolf. Karen Deatheridge with Defenders (of Wildlife), I know, is very upset at this loss, and I am, too."
Even though it was a legal shooting of the wolf, it could have been avoided, Toppenberg says. He says the male began acting erratically after losing the alpha female of the pack earlier this year to a trapper.
Wolf advocates say none of this would have happened if the Board of Game had adopted the larger buffer zone they requested in 2002. State officials say that's making assumptions, and chances are that wolf viewing in the park will eventually bounce back from this loss.
"Other packs in that area may adjust their boundaries of their home range, based on the activities of this pack and they may not," said wildlife biologist Cathie Harms in a telephone interview from Fairbanks. "Things may be dramatically different, they might not be all that different. It's difficult to predict."
"My biggest concern is -- and I get frustrated with this -- trying to throw emotions into management," said Cliff Judkins, a member of the Board of Game. "Emotions just don't belong there. We listen to our biologists. We've got very well-qualified, very well-trained staff, and they're the ones we listen to."
State officials say that, although the loss is significant to some, it's not significant to the wolf population as a whole. Advocates say it's little consolation for such a loss.
Master guide Ray Atkins did not return KTUU-TV's call and is not releasing the name of the Pennsylvania hunter who shot the wolf. Atkins' office says he stands by what he said in the newspaper when he said, "in the scheme of things, this is about as significant as one grain of sand in the Pacific Ocean."