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Alaska Wildlife Alliance: Renegade Trapper Decimates Denali Wolf Pack

This was posted on the Alaska Wildlife Alliance web site by director, John Toppenberg

Please Tell the Parnell Administration to Protect the Remaining Grant Creek Wolves!

A single trapper recently used highly unethical and morally reprehensible – but perfectly legal – means to kill at least two wolves from the Grant Creek pack near Denali National Park.

Coke Wallace, a trapper who lives in Healy and owner of the professional guiding service Midnight Sun Safaris, took a horse to a spot just outside the northern boundary of the Park, and set snares around its carcass. His ploy was successful: wolves from inside the Park were attracted to the free meal and crossed over the boundary. One was caught and killed, the primary reproductive female (which likely was pregnant) from the often-viewed and long-studied Grant Creek pack.

Because the wolf caught was the primary breeding female of the pack, the remaining wolves may disperse and this particular pack would cease to exist – an immeasurable loss to Park visitors and to researchers.

The possibility has been raised the wolf was trapped for a week before Wallace checked his snares and, if it was not already dead, killed it. Snares do not always kill, a fact evidenced by two wolves sighted around the Park entrance in 2008 with snares embedded in their necks, a disturbing sight viewed by many visitors.

Wallace’s snares were set within the former “Denali Buffer Zone” where from 2002 until 2010 trapping and hunting of wolves was prohibited to protect Park wolves that wandered onto adjacent state land. Despite overwhelming public opposition and a proposal to expand the buffer zone, in 2010 the Alaska Board of Game eliminated the protective buffer altogether. Thus, Wallace and any other trapper so inclined could lure the wolves into snares set close to the Park boundary. Killing habituated animals such as the wolves in the Grant Creek pack is unethical, and deprives tens of thousands of visitors annually from the likelihood of seeing wolves in the wild.

In fact, the snared wolf wore a radio-transmitter collar as part of an ongoing research project to determine whether eliminating the Buffer Zone would affect the population of wolves most often seen by visitors.

Although the trapping season is now closed, the damage – most likely irreversible – has been done. But the trapping season for wolves will reopen in November – and any wolves remaining in the area will again be baited out of the Park and into snares.

THE PARNELL ADMINISTRATION NEEDS TO KNOW THAT WE WANT THIS CRUEL, REPREHENSIBLE PRACTICE STOPPED.

Tell them that these wolves desperately need protection from such extreme, unethical trapping. Ask them to 1) implement an emergency closure to halt hunting and trapping on state land bordering the northern edge of Denali National Park, and 2) re-establish the Denali Buffer Zone.

Please send a message or call (or better yet, both) to the following:

Gov. Sean Parnell: sean.parnell@alaska.gov or (907) 465-3500

Dept of Fish & Game Commissioner Cora Campbell: cora.campbell@alaska.gov or (907) 465-4100

(Of course feel free to add your own comments to the suggestions above. Also, please cc a copy of your message to AWA at info@akwildlife.org.)

U.S. Park Service surveys show that Denali wolf populations are significantly reduced from what they were several years ago, and one of the likely reasons is the continued take by hunters and trappers along the northeast boundary of the park.

Although Wallace apparently did not violate any trapping rules, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating potential water quality violations, which prohibit discarding carcasses in surface waters. The decomposing carcass is below the high-water mark of a creek which residents just one-half mile downstream use for drinking water.

Vic Van Ballenberghe, a retired biologist who spent decades studying Denali’s wildlife, described the impact of the loss of Grant Creek Pack wolves:

The recent loss of Grant Creek Pack wolves to snaring outside the Denali National Park boundary will potentially impact viewing of wolves along the park road this year and likely in future years.

In recent years as the East Fork or Toklat wolves became less visible (they were the main wolves viewed by visitors prior to 2002), the Grant Creek pack provided most of the opportunities to see wolves along the road. This pack denned close to the road at Toklat and used rendezvous sites visible from the road most of the summer. People saw them hunting and killing prey, howling, playing, feeding pups, etc. — basically doing all the things wolves do. They became a large pack and most of them were quite tolerant of people — not all wolves share this trait. Other packs living near the road over the years were seldom seen as they never lost their fear of humans.

The Grant Creek wolves provided one of a very few opportunities for people to see wolves in Alaska. Despite having an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves, there are only a very small number of accessible places in Alaska where wolves are not hunted or trapped and therefore tolerate people close enough to observe them. In recent years, thousands of people observed the Grant Creek pack – for many, possibly the only time in their lives they will ever see a wild wolf.

With the loss of the collared female in a snare (the mother of last year’s litter) and the additional loss of a second adult female, it is very unlikely that there will be a litter of pups in 2012. If not, sightings of Grant Creek wolves near the road will be scarce this year. Unless there is a den with pups to confine their movements, wolves tend to travel widely in summer (as they do in winter) and to loosely associate with other pack members. And it is unlikely that wolves in other packs will provide sightings near the road to replace those opportunities lost by snaring of the Grant Creek female.

All for the sake of a few dollars in Coke Wallace’s pocket.

Please tell Parnell and Campbell that this is wrong. Demand that the Denali Buffer Zone be re-established BEFORE more wolves are snared this fall!

Thank you for supporting AWA and especially Alaska’s wildlife.

John Toppenberg
Director

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