Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Denali wolf situation an embarrassment

  • By Sean McGuire
  • 05.25.2016
News-Miner Community Perspective:

Denali National Park is arguably Alaska’s crown jewel. People from all over the world come to see both the magnificent landscape and the iconic wildlife. Not only are Alaskans proud of this stupendous natural wonder, but the 400,000 annual visitors provide an important contribution to Alaska’s economy. Visitors thrill at all the wildlife, but surveys repeatedly indicate that the two animals they want to see most are grizzly bears and wolves. No wolves on the planet have been studied, written about and photographed more than the wolves of Denali Park.

It would seem obvious that the state would want to protect this world-class resource. It would seem inconceivable that the State of Alaska would allow hunters and trappers to travel a narrow corridor cut deep into the park, set up bait stations, lure these much loved and studied wolves into this sliver of state-owned land to be trapped or gunned down. Well, guess what? That is exactly what is happening.

This painful situation makes no sense on a moral level,  a management level, an economic level or a public-relations level. Without any doubt, the majority of Alaskans and virtually all of the visitors who have heard of this practice are outraged and disgusted. Anyone with a shred of awareness of economic realities is utterly perplexed that the state would compromise this spectacular economic engine for a few wolf pelts.

Remember when Cecil, the lion, was lured out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and gunned down by a trophy-hunting Minnesota dentist. That story was the No. 1 trending news story in the world for several days. The disgust was universal and unanimous.

We just had our own Cecil-the-lion event. The famed East Fork wolf pack that numbered 15 just a few years ago, and has been studied continuously for 70 years, was reduced to two members last year, in part because of being lured into the state-owned corridor. And now once again, on or about May 8, we had a male wolf, one of the last two East Fork pack members lured by bait into this inexcusable kill zone and shot.

Ten years ago, the number of wolves in Denali stood at 170, and 50 percent of visitors saw wolves. In the last three years, the total number of wolves in the park has been 48, an all-time low, and only 5 percent see a wolf. There are certainly other factors involved in the disappearance of so many Denali wolves. But make no mistake; this accommodation by the board of game to allow this situation to continue is an important factor.

It is an indication of how out of whack the game board has become. The Alaska constitution states that wildlife shall be managed for “all Alaskans.” That’s all Alaskans, not just the 14 percent of the state’s population that have hunting and trapping licenses. Consider the fact that not a single game board member is representing the large majority of Alaskans who are not hunters and or who want to see wolf and bear populations that are actually alive. Especially in a national park.

It’s obvious that the board of game cares little about the opinions of Alaskans if they are not hunters or trappers. This total and complete imbalance has been brought on by a decade of Republican political domination. Basically, any person applying to a seat on the board has little or no chance unless they are a part of the wolf-is-the-villain hunting fraternity. Consequently, the board is utterly incapable of correcting this Denali kill zone travesty.

There was actually a no-kill buffer zone for this area until 2010. It did exactly what was needed, protecting the park’s wildlife from being slaughtered. This is not a radical idea. It’s time for Gov. Bill Walker to step in and correct this embarrassment.

Sean McGuire is a longtime Interior resident, local business owner and community activist.