Denali Buffer Zone lives, but not because the Alaska Board
of Game wants to save wolves for tourists to see.
the board voted to keep the controversial buffer zone in order
to make killing wolves in other parts of the state more palatable
to the public.
a split vote late Monday night, the Alaska Board of Game voted
to retain a 130-square-mile chunk of state land that has been
closed to the hunting and trapping of wolves to protect them
for viewing by tourists in Denali National Park and Preserve.
whole being said to get rid of this, but the caveat I ended
up dealing with is that I can sacrifice that buffer zone for
all the other wolf plans we have coming up," said Fairbanks
board member Sharon McLeod-Everette. "I think kicking
the buffer zone out would give (animal-rights groups) an opportunity
to scream and yell and cry and put it in the news again and
I don't want it there."
Although the board voted Tuesday to reduce the buffer zone
by eliminating a sliver of land east of the Parks Highway
near Healy, the buffer zone that was created four years ago
and expanded in 2002 to protect a pair of highly-visible wolf
packs in Denali Park remains mostly intact.
board also put a six-year moratorium on new proposals dealing
with buffer zone.
game board, which wraps up a marathon meeting today in Fairbanks,
has spent the last two weeks debating changes to hunting and
trapping regulations throughout the Interior and around the
buffer zone has been a point of controversy since it was created
four years ago by a previous game board appointed by former
Gov. Tony Knowles to protect two wolf packs that inhabit the
northeast corner of the 6-million-acre park. The packs sometime
roam outside park boundaries onto state land around Healy.
buffer zone was thought to be on its death bed when Gov. Frank
Murkowski took office more than a year ago and installed a
more hunter- and trapper-friendly game board.
board's 4-3 vote to keep the buffer zone wasn't based on saving
wolves as much as it was on winning the support of the public
for predator control programs in other parts of the state,
as well as for future programs. The state recently began aerial
wolf hunts in McGrath and the in the Nelchina Basin and is
looking at initiating several more predator control programs
around the state.
that we have active predator management, we have a lot of
public support," said board chairman Mike Fleagle of
McGrath during deliberations that ran to almost 11 p.m. Monday.
"I think removing the buffer would lose us some support."
along with Fleagle, Ben Grussendorf of Sitka and Ted Spraker
of Kenai voted to retain the buffer zone while Fairbanks'
Pete Buist, Ron Somerville of Juneau and Cliff Judkins of
Wasilla voted against it.
former head of the Alaska Trappers Association, was adamantly
opposed to keeping the buffer zone.
and a half million acres should be enough to contain several
wolf packs," said Buist, referring to the portion of
Denali National Park and Preserve that is closed to hunting
and trapping. "Taking opportunity away outside the park
on state land is not fair nor will it buy us any goodwill
from animal rights groups, which for some reason some of my
fellow board members think it will."
former head of the state's game division, said advocates of
the buffer zone "have an insatiable appetite" and
will never be satisfied with the size of the area.
isn't about wildlife viewing," Somerville said. "This
about a group of people being opposed to any kind of hunting
or trapping. Pretty soon buffers will be running into each
for creating a public backlash and exposing the state's predator
control programs to criticism by animal-rights groups, Somerville
didn't buy that argument.
being proactive in so many fronts that haven't been done for
so many years I don't think we're going to give them additional
fodder," he said.
board bucked the recommendations of eight local advisory committees,
all of which favored eliminating the buffer zone. The board
typically heeds the advice of advisory committees but this
was an exception.
turned our backs on them," Somerville said.
proposing the six-year moratorium on new proposals, Spraker
said the board needs to stick with one buffer and see how
it works. He also said the moratorium will give National Park
Service officials time to try to develop other wolf-viewing
opportunities in the park.
an estimated 10,000 wolves in 1,500 packs roaming the state,
proponents of the buffer zone say the least the state can
do is offer protection to the state's two most-viewed wolf
packs. They also contend the buffer zone needs to be bigger,
evidenced by the fact the alpha male in one of the two packs
was recently trapped just outside the area.
he said the current buffer zone is "better than nothing,"
Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, a preservationist
group that has fought for a bigger buffer zone for several
years, was disappointed with the board's reasoning behind
would have failed if there was not concern about the backlash
from (eliminating) it," he said. "(The buffer zone)
is regarded as an enormous gift to the non-consumptive interests."
of the packs, the Toklat pack, is the oldest known and studied
wolf pack in Alaska and an estimated 20,000 visitors in Denali
Park see wolves from the two packs each year, Joslin said.
biological value of serving the (wildlife viewing) needs of
thousands of people, you need to protect those wolves from
that standpoint alone," he said.
Tim Mowry can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7587.