FAIRBANKS — On the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, a spirited debate unfolded at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly meeting about protecting wolves at Denali National Park and Preserve.
The issue on Thursday drew dozens of testifiers, including hunters and conservationists, and proved divisive.
The assembly passed a resolution urging Gov. Bill Walker to halt wolf hunting and trapping on a peninsula of Alaska land that juts into the northeast side of Denali National Park. The request for protection also also extends to bears and wolverine.
The vote was 6-3 with assembly members Diane Hutchison, Lance Roberts and Matt Cooper voting no.
Supporters of the resolution argued baiting animals and trapping them is unsportsmanlike and has diminished wolf packs in the park, reducing the opportunity for wildlife viewing.
One testifier, author and conservationist Roger Kaye, said wolves represent the wildness of Alaska.
Assemblyman Christopher Quist said they “are the icon of the wild of Alaska.”
“We need to protect wildlife viewing aspects,” said educator Rich Seifert. “That is what Alaska is known for, and we should keep it that way.”
Opponents of the resolution pointed out wolves are abundant in Alaska. They are not considered threatened or endangered in the Interior.
“Alaska has a healthy thriving wolf population throughout the state,” said Mark Knapp, a knifemaker, trapper and big game guide.
The borough should keep its nose out of the state’s business of game management, opponents of the resolution said.
“There is an established state process to deal with these issues,” lawyer Kirk Schwalm testified.
The debate has been simmering here for decades, boiling over every so often.
Recent national headlines decrying the state of Denali park wolf packs have caused angst about the issue more recently.
“The public relations on this issue has been horrible for this state,” said Assemblyman Van Lawrence, who sponsored the resolution.
A no-hunting buffer zone along the Stampede Road corridor northwest of Healy was in place until 2009 when the Alaska Board of Game repealed it.
Since the repeal, the park’s wolf population has plummeted.
The Board of Game has repeatedly rejected proposals to reinstated the buffer zone, though the panel did shorten the spring wolf hunting season after hunters were killing wolves drawn in by bear bait stations.
Much of the assembly debate centered around whether wolves ought to be protected for the benefit of the borough economy because visitors come to the Interior to view wildlife.
“They want to see wildlife because they don’t have it anymore. It’s gone,” Assemblywoman Janice Westlind said. She supported the resolution.
Hutchison, who opposed it, said she thinks the issue is about some people’s disapproval of trapping. She is a hunter and her husband traps.
Hutchison pulled out brochures describing trips and tours in Alaska. One Princess Cruise brochure mentioned wolves only once, Hutchison said, in a list with other animals that visitors should “be on the lookout for.” The tour included only one day at Denali park.
Cooper, who also opposed the resolution, said he didn’t like the way it was written.
“I straddle the line of being a hunter and a conservationist,” he said.
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