Two wolves – including a pregnant female – were shot in Denali National Park. (Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski / Alamy)
A controversy erupted in Alaska after two wolves in Denali National Park were shot last Saturday. According to the conservation group Care2, the wolves, including a pregnant female, were lured to a bear-baiting station just outside the park before being killed.
Wolf hunting season is open through May, but hunters are not allowed inside the grounds of Denali. However, in 2010, Alaska’s Board of Game removed a no-trap, no-kill buffer zone on state land adjacent to the park — a move that some residents claim is wiping out the wolf population, which has plummeted from 143 to 48 in just seven years - despite the fact that several studies have been done, citing other factors including lack of prey and “unspecified” reasons.
“Unlike most national parks, hunting and trapping is allowed on many Alaskan national parks,” Alaskan Marybeth Holleman, told Care2. “In addition, as wolves and other wildlife cross invisible park boundaries onto state lands, they are hunted and trapped for ‘sport’ by a few local residents,” Holleman, whose 2013 book, Among Wolves, explores the research of wolf advocate Gordon Haber, continued.
In fact, Holleman says that almost half of the park’s visitors used to see wolves, but now just six percent of visitors catch a glimpse. The current wolf population numbers are the lowest on record since 1986, when there were an estimated 46 wolves in the park.
It’s understandable, then, that Holleman is nostalgic about the past, when this was simply not the case.
In just seven years, the Denali wolf population has dropped from 143 to just 48. (Photo: Design Pics Inc / Alamy)
“I’ve lived in Alaska for nearly thirty years. I saw my first wild wolves in Denali my first summer here, when I was working at the park,” she continues. “I raised my son here. He saw his first wild wolf in Denali 20 years ago, and it set him on his career as a photographer. Denali was one of the best places in the world to see wolves in the wild. But not anymore.”
Consequently, Holleman has started a petition to save the wolves, which, if passed, will establish a permanent, no-kill buffer zone around the park’s boundary. And it’s looking good: The petition has already been signed by over 100,000 people.
“[Wolf] family groups can be horribly disrupted by hunting and trapping, which, unlike deaths from natural causes, often [results in the killing of] alpha wolves,” says Holleman. “In 2012, the trapping of the pregnant alpha female wolf of the Grant Creek group led to the group declining from 15 wolves to only three over the course of the summer.”
Two of the nine Denali wolves that died in 2014 and 2015 were killed by hunters. In addition to allowing hunting and trapping, the state also pays Fish and Game employees to shoot wolves from helicopters as part of a program meant to increase moose populations.
However, Nate Turner, vice chairman of the Alaska Board of Game, claims the decrease of the wolf population has to do with food source and other factors - not hunters.
“I live on the boundary of Denali National Park,” Turner wrote. “Denali wolves are one of the most protected wolf populations in the world, and live in an area that provides an entire ecosystem with minimal interference from human development and activity. Occasionally, wolves that live inside and outside the park do cross the boundaries, and sometimes do get taken during the hunting and trapping seasons. These limited harvests are very minimal however, when you realize that the wolf population within Denali Park has declined dramatically over the last years and all the areas to the North and west of it as well, without an increase in the human take of wolves. They are starving due to the low levels of their primary prey species, difficult hunting conditions due to mild winters, and other yet undetermined factors.”