FAIRBANKS — Rarely is a scandal as outrageous as the state of Alaska’s sanctioning the killing of Denali National Park’s wolves and bears. Much of this shocking slaughter involves the use of bait to lure these iconic animals out of the park and kill them. Most of the ongoing killing is done in the Stampede Corridor, a 24-mile long narrow strip of state land that cuts deep into the heart of the park.
Denali is the crown jewel of Alaska; 670,000 tourists a year come from around the world to see the mountain and witness the iconic animals in their natural setting. Alaskans are extremely proud of Denali’s wolves and bears. When they want to show off Alaska to out of state friends and relatives, Denali is where they will take them. A buffer zone on the east side of the park protecting Denali’s wildlife was in place until 2010. At that time, there were 150 wolves in the park and 49 percent of visitors saw wolves. Denali was one of two places in the entire world where a person had a good chance to see a wild wolf. Not any more. By 2016, after six years of this insane policy, the wolves have been reduced by almost two thirds and only 4 percent of visitors saw wolves. Now, if you want to see a wolf you should go to Yellowstone National Park.
Denali’s wildlife is a world-class resource. Alaska is experiencing a disastrous economic downturn and tourism is one of the few bright spots going for us. Even if someone doesn’t value or care about wildlife, the immense economic value of these wolves and bears can’t be denied. And, it’s sustainable. Yet, the state allows a handful of individuals to kill off these beloved, world-renowned animals. This is the equivalent of the nation of Zimbabwe allowing poachers to have free rein to bait their iconic lions out of their national parks and gun them down. Of course, they would never do that. Remember when a Minnesota dentist did lure a single lion out of Hwange National Park (Cecil the Lion) and killed him, the entire world was outraged. That story became the biggest news story in the world for two days.
The outcry and anger over this insane policy continues to grow here in Alaska. Seventy letters to the editor have been written, a dozen op-eds, three protests — all with over 50 people — a Fairbanks North Star Borough resolution and passing of House Bill 105 in 2017, which proposes to reinstate the buffer, all show support for the buffer. Not to mention all the newspaper and magazine articles that have embarrassed us nationally. People around the country are like, “Are you kidding me?”
I don’t think any other state in the nation would shoot themselves in the foot like this, not even Texas. Remember, these Denali wolves and bears are used to people being nonthreatening to them, they’re not cautious, they have no idea that very close to that yummy smell of the bait station are men lurking with AR-15s. I believe 80 percent of Alaskans, including many hunters, are scratching their heads at the stupidity of this policy.
Five more Denali wolves with radio collars were killed in March, finally prompting Alaska Department of Fish and Game to temporarily reinstate the buffer. Temporarily is the operative word.
But, in a stupefying move, the News-Miner writes an editorial urging no Denali buffer. Basically saying to continue killing Denali’s magnificent wolves.
I can’t help but think this editorial is right out of 1880s Montana or the Dakotas when the newspapers of the time were cheerleading the slaughter of the wolves and the buffalo.
Sean McGuire lives in Fairbanks.