seven wolves that roamed Douglas Island more than two years
ago may be gone, but the impressions they made are still
with us. And some of those impressions are misleading.
Those seven wolves were unusual in two ways. They hung about on the beach where
they were highly visible, so a number of people had the chance to see wolves
in the wild. And a single trapper managed to kill them all, almost overnight.
There were two adults and five pups.
an entire pack, or at least what seemed to be a family
group, fueled public outrage that led to restrictions
in November 2002 on hunting and trapping wolves on Douglas.
Now some say those restrictions are too stringent. The
Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee has organized
a panel to figure out if the restrictions should be changed.
as they do so, people need to separate the reality from
the fiction that often surrounds wolves. Too often, opinions
about wolves are based on misconceptions, rather than fact.
are held by those on both sides of the issue: those who
want wolves to thrive in Juneau's backyard, and deer
hunters who worry wolves will diminish the capital city's
most accessible hunting grounds.
Some deer hunters are overly fearful about wolves' effect on Douglas deer.
While rumors of wolves on Douglas exist, there's no real proof they are there.
And while the deer harvest has dropped in the last couple of years, there's
no indication it's because of wolves. Other factors are likely contributing
to that decline, including milder weather that may have kept deer at higher,
less accessible elevations during the hunting season.
But it's understandable that deer hunters don't want to see the wolf harvest
restrictions continue indefinitely. Current restrictions ban hunting and
trapping wolves on Douglas until state biologists estimate the island has
at least seven wolves, and even then, no more than 30 percent of the wolves
could be killed. Also, hunting and trapping will reopen if hunters' take
of deer over two years falls more than 35 percent from the average of the
previous 10 years.
There are two problems with drawing the line at seven wolves.
It's incredibly hard to figure out how many wolves are on the island, according
to state biologists. Some Juneau residents have the misimpression that it's
easy to count wolves because the former group was so visible. But state biologist
Neil Barten said those wolves' behavior was not typical and is unlikely to
happen again. Wolves are usually extremely skittish and, in the dense cover
of Douglas, very hard to track down.
Also, Southeast biologists manage a huge range of wildlife, from moose to
mountain goats from Cape Fanshaw to Yakutat. State scientists have limited
time, money and staff to pinpoint the number of wolves on Douglas.
Here's the other problem with drawing the line at seven: One wolf eats about
26 deer a year. If a pack of seven wolves were established on Douglas Island,
that would mean 182 deer killed by wolves per year. Human hunters take 200
to 300 deer each year, and it's likely a pack of seven wolves is going to
affect the deer population to some degree.
A balance is possible. Some who want to protect wolves are afraid that if
the restrictions are loosened, wolves will be wiped out on Douglas again.
But people should keep in mind that snaring a whole pack of wolves at once
was a highly unusual event. In the previous 50 years, there is no record
of any wolves being captured on Douglas Island at all, according to state
The group reviewing these limits should consider several
options. These include lowering the base line
number of wolves before hunting and trapping
are allowed, and considering a very limited set
of hunting or trapping permits for Douglas. Current
restrictions are impractical and revising them
can create a better balance between the concerns
of deer hunters and those who want to see wolves
in the city's backyard. --