Game Board Opposes Wolf Viewing Interests

Alaska Wildlife Alliance / March 13, 2004

The alpha male of the much viewed Margaret pack in Denali National Park was recently killed by a trapper just outside the park's boundary.  Upon hearing the news the Alaska Wildlife Alliance made an Emergency Request to the Board of Game, asking it to declare a zero bag limit on wolves in the unprotected portion of the Margaret pack range.  At the conclusion of its meeting last week the Board of Game took no action on the request, and instead reduced by more than half the 55 square mile no wolf killing area that had been approved for the Margaret wolves by an earlier Board. 

Wolves are such persecuted, wary animals that few people have ever seen one in the wild.  The only place in Alaska that people have a reasonable chance of experiencing such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is in Denali National Park, where the odds of viewing wolves during a visit is about one in eight.  While that may not sound high, it is truly extraordinary for wolves, and accounts for about 20,000 sightings a year. 

Two wolf packs, Margaret and Toklat, account for almost all of the viewings.  They have learned to go about doing their thing, be it playing, feeding, scent marking, hunting, or sleeping, while in the presence of visitors confined to buses and under the watchful eyes of tour guide operators.  No place else in the world offers such intimate viewing of wild wolves to so many visitors .

Both packs have territories that extend outside the park boundary where they may be hunted or trapped.  The Margaret pack is the fourth group in succession to have occupied the site in the past 25 years.  The other three were destroyed by hunters and trappers.

The Toklat pack, the first group of wolves ever to have been studied in the wild, and the world's oldest known pack, has more than once narrowly escaped extinction.  In 1998 they were reduced to just two animals that luckily were a male and a female, and thus were able to perpetuate the pack.   

The power to decide whether or not the Margaret or Toklat wolves are to be subject to living or dying at the hands of hunters and trappers lies with the Alaska Board of Game.  Governor Murkowski, noted for his anti-predator stance, has only selected individuals to sit on the Board who support the launching of predator control programs over vast areas of the state.  They have a near zero tolerance for compromise with the 75 percent of Alaskans that do not hold a hunting or trapping license. 

Hunters and trappers kill about three wolves a year on the lands occupied by the Toklat and Margaret wolves. "We have offered to pay compensation to the effected hunters and trappers for their cooperation in not killing these wolves if the Board of Game would create a meaningful no wolf killing zone," said Dr. Paul Joslin, Wildlife Director for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.  "For the Board to have removed this threat would have been inconsequential in terms of the impact it would have on the overall harvesting of wolves, especially in light of this offer".  Hunters and trappers in Alaska currently kill over 1,600 wolves a year.

Having an all hunter-trapper Board of Game in charge of making decisions that impact wildlife viewing interests is grossly out of step with the times.  It needs to be replaced by a Board of Wildlife composed of hunters, trappers, wildlife viewers, wildlife scientists, tourism and other stakeholders that more fairly and accurately reflect the broader diversity of wildlife values held by most Alaskans.  According to the 2001 National survey of fishing, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation 221,000 Alaskans along with 292,000 non-residents spent $538,000 on wildlife watching compared with 93,000 local and non-resident hunters and trappers spending $216,000 on their activities.  Polling results indicate that 83 percent of Alaskans, including 70 percent of hunters, favor a diverse Board of Wildlife over that which currently exists.  
Senator Johnny Ellis recently introduced a bill, SB 343, that specifically seeks to create a Board of Wildlife. 

Contact:  Paul Joslin, Wildlife Director
(907) 277-9816
Cell Phone:  (907) 250-5944

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