Alaska’s Board of Game has shortened the wolf hunting season near Denali National Park to prevent the killing of wolves that are attracted to bait put out by bear hunters.
The state board voted 5-2 last week to make the wolf hunting season end April 15 on the Stampede Trail corridor to the north of the park. The change shortens the season by 47 days.
The growing popularity of bear baiting in the Stampede Trail corridor adds a new wrinkle to the longstanding conflict between Denali-area wolf hunters and anti-hunting wildlife watchers.
The National Park Service wrote the proposal in response to the legal shooting of two wolves in the Stampede Trail area last spring. One wolf was wearing a GPS collar from a park service study, which showed the wolf had recently spent time near bait put out by a bear hunter. The Park Service argued that an April spike in wolf harvests caused by the bear baiting stations would be especially costly to wolf populations.
“The timing of this unforeseen additional harvest (which overlaps with the whelping and nursing period) combined with the current population status indicate the potential for population level impacts and present a legitimate conservation concern,” the Park Service wrote in its proposal to the state game board.
Wolf hunting around Denali National Park is especially contentious because of the park’s reputation as an accessible place to see wolves. The park’s wolves have been at historically low levels in recent years, so more visitors have gone home without ever seeing a wolf.
There are nine registered bear baiting stations in the affected area and interest in bear baiting has been on the rise since 2012 when rules changed to allow hunters to shoot brown bears at bait stations in addition to black bears, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
At last week’s meeting, Alaska Board of Game Chairman Ted Spraker described the proposal as a compromise that addresses a concern of wolf advocates without seriously curtailing hunting opportunities.
“This demonstrates to the public that we are listening to individuals and I think this is a very minimal loss to hunters in the area who may see a wolf at a bait station,” he said.
The two “no” votes came from Tok member Teresa Sager-Albaugh and Kip Fanning of Yakutat.
Sager-Albaugh said she opposed the rule on grounds that, in her opinion, the state game board has already compromised too much with the federal government.
“In terms of small reasonable compromises, I think Congress helped us compromise 6 million acres — whether we like it or not — with Denali National Park,” she said.
The new rule doesn’t affect people with trapping licenses, who will still be able to target wolves through April 30. It also doesn’t affect this season. It will take affect in spring 2017.
Longtime wolf advocate Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks environmental conservation biologist, said after the meeting that he opposes the rule because it doesn’t do enough.
“This new regulation addresses maybe 2 percent of the problem, leaving the other 98 percent unchanged. Clearly, this does not protect Denali wolves, and the State and Park Service are fooling no one on this,” he said by email. The new rule, he said, “may actually slow momentum toward the only effective solution to this serious problem — a permanent, no-kill wildlife conservation easement (north-east) of the park.”