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Second petition asks for wolf protection zone near Denali

National Park Service

Fairbanks, AK - The Alaska Board of Game will not honor a request to reconsider an emergency regulation to protect wolves along the eastern border of Denali National Park and Preserve.  So, a handful of Wildlife advocacy groups and individuals have field a second petition asking to close state lands to hunting and trapping wolves near the park.

In a letter sent Monday to petitioners, the Board of Game said they have “no procedure under its rules to [reconsider] a denial on an emergency regulation petition…” So, they suggested the groups file a new petition that includes additional information.

That’s exactly what conservation biologist Rick Steiner did late Tuesday night.

“So they have no excuse to avoid this anymore," he says. "You know it’s obvious to many of the petitioners that the Board of Game and the Department are just looking for every possible way legal or not to deny this legitimate public interest in protecting Denali Park wolves and it’s time for that to change.”

The original petition asked for the establishment of an emergency management zone along the eastern border of Denali National Park and Preserve.  A wolf pack there has dispersed after the one breeding female was trapped this spring.  Another died of natural causes.  Alaska statute defines an emergency as an “unforeseen or unexpected event.” But Acting Chairman Ted Spraker says the Board doesn’t consider it an emergency, because the state allows trapping in that area. “There was nothing unforeseen about that wolf being trapped at all," he says. "In fact it was discussed at the Board that if we open this, we want to make it very clear that there’s a good chance that some of these wolves are gonna be trapped.”

New information has been added to the most recent petition, including National Park Service visitor statistics.  In 2010, 45 percent of visitors who came to see wolves in the park were successful.  This year, that opportunity dropped to 14%.  Rick Steiner says the decrease highlights what he calls unconstitutional management decisions.  “The Alaska Constitution directs that the state shall manage wildlife for the maximum benefit of the people," he argues.  "It’s clear that the interests of thousands of Alaskans and visitors to Alaska and business in Alaska that rely on it should outweigh the interest of just a couple of people trapping and hunting wolves on the boundary of the park.”

In emails Steiner acquired through a public records request, Fish and Game Management Biologists and the Board of Game say they don’t manage wolves at the pack level, but rather at the Game Management Unit Level. Game Management Unit 20 includes the Denali region.  It’s over 35 thousand square miles in area.  Steiner says managing wildlife at that scale ignores finer level issues.  

“You could lose every animal in Denali National Park and it would not rise to the level of an actionable resource emergency to the department of fish and game or to the board of game and that in anyone’s thinking should be an absurdity," says Steiner.

Ted Spraker agrees.  As a retried Fish and Game wildlife biologist, he says the Department should focus on a smaller portion of the unit, which is split into six subunits.  Subunit 20C would include the buffer zone.
“I recommended to the Department that if this petition comes back, that they narrow their comments and I think that they’ll focus their comments on 20C rather than all of 20.”

The Board is currently operating under a moratorium on wolf-related issues.  They will revisit the matter in 2016.  However, Spraker says they can still consider the latest petition.  "If there’s enough new information and if there’s enough to persuade two board members to call for a meeting, it only takes two board members to call for a meeting," says Spraker.

For roughly a decade, a buffer zone protected wolves that roamed between federal and state land around Denali.  But the Board cancelled it in 2010.   There are two known trappers who use the area.