The Denali-area buffer zone has been a continual conflict point between wolf advocates and trappers and hunters since at least 2010. That's when the Alaska Board of Game removed the buffer zone, re-legalizing wolf hunting and trapping on state lands adjacent to the park along the Parks Highway and Stampede Trail. Since then, wolf advocates have requested several emergency orders to re-create the buffer zone, all rejected by the game board.
People on both sides of the issue disagree about the impact of hunting and trapping on the decline.
Nate Turner, a big game guide and trapper who lives on the Kantishna River, is one of seven Alaska Board of Game members. In anticipation of Friday's meeting, he sent the game board information from Park Service biologist Steve Arthur that, according to Turner's letter, indicates humans are not to blame for the park's declining wolf population.
"The Park ... seems to be determined to maintain neutrality on these issues," Turner said.
Three nonprofit organizations — Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Denali Citizens Council and the National Parks Conservation Association — and seven individual advocates filed the most recent request for an emergency order last month. Advocates organized a letter-writing campaign that generated 423 pages of letters. Letters came from Alaska, the Lower 48 and a few foreign countries.
The petitioners argue they don't need to make the case that hunters and trappers are making a significant dent in the overall wolf population. Instead, they say the board urgently needs to re-establish the buffer-zone because hunting and trapping hurts the state's tourism receipts.
"The petition proposes simply that a small subset of the (Game Management Unit) 20 wolf population – the 20 to 30 individual animals that comprise what had been the most viewed three or four wolf packs in eastern Denali National Park – is at risk from take on adjacent state lands, and asks the state to grant protection to this small, unique subset of the GMU 20 wolf population due to its significant and disproportionate economic value to Alaska," their petition states.
The Board of Game meets Friday through Tuesday at the Student Union on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. To consider the wolf buffer zone, the board would have to first vote that the issue qualifies as a candidate for emergency action.