FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly will consider taking sides this week in a statewide conflict about wolf hunting rules near Denali National Park.
A resolution introduced by Assemblyman Van Lawrence urges Gov. Bill Walker to halt wolf hunting and trapping — as well as bear and wolverine killing — in a peninsula of Alaska land that juts into the northeast side of Denali National Park.
The vote doesn’t have direct power to influence wolf hunting rules. Like other resolutions, it’s an opinion from the borough’s elected leaders. The resolution is on the agenda for Thursday’s assembly meeting.
Wolf hunting near the national park has long been a contentious issue.
It’s been a goal of wolf advocates to reinstate a no-hunting buffer zone along the Stampede Road corridor northwest of Healy.
The Alaska Board of Game repealed it in 2009.
Since the repeal, the park’s wolf population has plummeted, although the animals are abundant elsewhere in the state and are not threatened or endangered.
Lawrence, a Fairbanks attorney, said Friday he wants the assembly to take up the issue because he believes wolf hunting near the park is bad for the Denali-related part of Fairbanks’ tourism industry.
“From my perspective, it’s an economic development issue. Tourism is important to this community and a lot of tourists are drawn to the Interior to see the park and to see wolves,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s an issue for the Fairbanks Borough Assembly.”
Lawrence’s resolution casts Alaska’s wolf hunting policies as poor natural resource management.
“This incredible and unique resource (the wolves) is being squandered for the satisfaction of just a handful of individuals,” it says.
Lawrence said he believes this is the first time the Borough Assembly has taken up the Denali wolf issue. Because it’s a new issue for the borough, he said he doesn’t have a good sense of how the assembly will vote.
Fellow Assemblyman Lance Roberts plans to oppose the resolution. He included information about how to testify or send an email about the resolution on his email newsletter, Fairbanks Conservatives List. Roberts supports the current hunting and trapping regulations in the area and the state’s process for modifying hunting rules.
“I don’t think it’s the borough’s place to get into game management,” he said in an interview Friday. “There’s a whole process that’s developed over decades that’s helped grow the availability of wildlife out there, and I think we should leave well enough alone.”
The Board of Game has repeatedly rejected proposals to reinstated a buffer zone. The board, whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, did take the action this spring of shortening the spring wolf hunting season because hunters had been killing wolves drawn in by bear bait stations.
A recent buffer zone proposal from the National Park Service takes a compromise approach to reinstituting the buffer zone. The proposal would not create a year-round buffer zone but would further shorten the season with the goal of protecting wolves during the breeding season. The proposal asks the Board of Game to close wolf hunting in the Stampede Road corridor from Feb. 1 to July 31 and to close wolf trapping from Feb. 1 to Oct. 31. The board is scheduled to consider the proposal in February when it meets in Fairbanks.
Buffer zone supporters have also tried to bypass the Board of Game by appealing directly to Walker, asking him to have his fish and game commissioner close the Stampede Road corridor by emergency order.
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.