Keep Them Wild

Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 1, 2004

The Alaska Board of Game heard much over the weekend about the buffer zone that was supposedly put in place to protect a couple of highly visible wolf packs near Denali National Park and Preserve.

The subject has been raised in this column before, and the message here remains the same. There is no biological or scientific need for a buffer zone to extend a park and preserve that already covers 6 million acres that is off limits to all but subsistence hunting and trapping allowed in the preserve.

Much has been made of the status of the Sanctuary and Toklat packs. As they originally pushed for the buffer zone, wildlife protection groups suddenly proclaimed the packs "world famous" in their publications and on their Web sites. This newspaper has been reporting on Denali National Park for decades and most folks around here had never heard of these packs until the buffer zone was proposed. Drop the phrases in Anytown, U.S.A., and you likely won't get past discussing what "Toklat" is.

The brown bears of McNeil River or Brooks Falls, now those are world-famous bears and locations. But it's not the individual bear families that are protected; it's an area where bears tend to congregate. The wolf packs of Denali? There are many, they come and go, and the habitat within Denali National Park and Preserve already is set aside for them.

Part of the mystique of wolves is their reclusive nature. They are rarely seen, even by people who spend a great deal of time in Alaska's wilds. More often, we hear them howling. It's a beautiful sound ... unless it's a little too close to your sled dog lot. Wolves are rarely seen. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Seeing a wolf that is habituated to buses and likes to nose around campgrounds holds all the excitement of seeing a grizzly bear digging for scraps at a rural landfill.

Visitors come to see Alaska, and Alaska is a place where there are vast national parks, but there also are vast areas where wolf and bear populations are so healthy that it is one of the few places in the world where regular hunting and trapping seasons are allowed. It's a place where people live close to the land and still trap, and wear wolf fur. The people are part of the mystique of the place as well. The wolves are wild and the people who trap them and view them venture into the wilds to find them.

The state does not need to create buffer zones around our millions of acres of national park lands to snuff out the Alaska way of life so visitors stand a chance of seeing wolves that have lost their wildness.

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