The Alaska Board of Game has approved a National Park Service proposal aimed at reducing the number of park wolves killed outside the Denali’s northern boundary. It’s the latest move in a long running debate over how to manage park wolves that roam onto state land.
The Game Board action will close the wolf hunting season along Denali National Park’s northern boundary 6 weeks earlier in the spring, on April 15th instead of May 31 beginning next year. Denali National Park science and resources team leader Dave Schirokauer says the change will eliminate overlap of state wolf hunting and bear baiting seasons on a strip of state land near the Stampede Road, where wolves roam across the park boundary.
“Our concern was that wolves were being taken in association with bear bait,” Schirokauer said. “And that happened last spring with two of our wolves including a breeding female being taken in association with the bait station near the park boundary on state land.”
The Game Board considered the wolf hunting season change out of cycle at its recently concluded Fairbanks meeting. Game Board chairman Ted Spraker noted heavy public testimony in favor of eliminating the overlapping wolf and bear hunts.
”I think it goes a long ways to show that this board listens to individuals that have these concerns and I’m not willing to, in a sense, jeopardize the option of hunting a brown bear over bait across the state in a place where one or two wolves may be taken,” said Spraker.
The Denali National Park wolf population was estimated at 62 animals last fall, near a 30 year low. Park biologists consider wolf harvest to be just one factor in the predators decline, and given low April-May harvest numbers, Schirokauer describes the game board action as a small step toward rebuilding park wolf numbers.
”I think maybe it will have a slight impact,” said Schirokauer. ”Hunting and trapping Denali wolves will continue virtually unabated.”
Denali wolf protection advocate Rick Steiner and other conservationists have long advocated for reinstatement of year round no wolf kill buffer zone along the parks northern edge, like one the game board scrapped in 2010. Schirokauer says the park service supports a buffer, and expects numerous proposals to reestablish one next year when the game board is scheduled to consider Denali region issues. It’s chances seem slim based on comments from board members like Theresa Sager Albaugh of Tok, who questioned shortening the spring wolf season at the Park Service’s request.
“This is like the camel’s nose under the tent as far as I’m concerned,” said Sager Albaugh. “It’s a step to what equates to seeding state wildlife management to federal management interests.”
Sager Albaugh voted against the change. Steiner describes the board as stacked with hunters, and isn’t holding out much hope for it to create a new buffer zone.
”The Board of Game will never solve the Denali wolf issue it nees to be solved with a conservation easement, seeded by the State of Alaska to the park service in exchange for a like-valued federal asset seeded to the state,” Steiner said.
Steiner and other conservationists proposed the land swap idea to create permanent protection area for park wolves 3 years ago. It drew interest from Governor Walker and park service officials last year, but no action has been taken.