Community Perspective

The usual suspects try again on Denali wolves plan

Ho hum. Alaska wolf protection interests are out to protect wolves from hunting and trapping on the state lands adjoining Denali National Park again. This has happened so often I think of these folks as “the usual suspects.” This time, they’re hoping to drum up support for a National Park Service proposal to the Board of Game.

The Park Service is proposing to close wolf hunting and trapping on the state’s land. This is typical Park Service overreach. Here’s why:

The Park Service has no jurisdiction over wildlife management on Alaska’s land. Although the Park Service can influence management of our wildlife on their land, federal courts recently said “stop it” when the feds made “protective” rules excluding traditional Alaska Native hunting practices on federal land.

Also, the Park Service should remember it’s part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Last year, the Interior Department secretary directed his department’s agencies to align their regulations with ours. This directive explicitly said the feds should align their regulations, not change ours. Guess what? That’s what the Park Service is proposing to do — and on our land.

Finally, I wonder what part of recent court decisions the Park Service doesn’t understand.

Nevertheless, the Park Service is back with the tried and tired notion that protecting wolves on state lands significantly affects wolf biology in the park. It doesn’t. There’s no biological evidence that what happens outside the park significantly affects wolf welfare within the park. Wolves live and den in suitable habitats. When habitats aren’t suitable (because of other wolves defending their territories or a lack of available food to raise pups), wolves don’t use them.

The other argument my usual suspects traditionally drag into their buffer zone fantasy is that protecting wolves outside the park is good for Alaska’s tourism revenue. The argument that tourists will see more wolves if more wolves survive in the neighborhood seems logical, but the data show that overall Alaska tourism is unrelated to whether Denali National Park visitors expect to see wolves from busses.

Still, this time around, the usual suspects are trying to convince Explore Fairbanks, the Fairbanks-based tourism trade association, that it should get behind the Park Service wolf protection agenda. These aggressive activists will be presenting their arguments to the Explore Fairbanks Board in an effort to create apparent local-industry to support for their Park Service-recycled dream of a buffer zone. If successful, their effort to co-opt our local tourism industry’s support for the Park Service proposal might, or might not, influence the Board of Game.

During an earlier attempt to enlarge Denali National Park via the buffer zone gambit, the usual suspects orchestrated 8,000 letters to the Board of Game supporting the buffer zone. These letters were primarily from Outside, and the board followed Alaska’s policy to reject the proposal in spite of orchestrated, mass “public” support. Special interests from Outside didn’t sway the Board of Game that time.

However if the usual suspects can earn the endorsement of the Explore Fairbanks board, they can claim support from the 200-plus Explore Fairbanks partners. This would appear to be significant Alaska opinion. That’s different than Outside opinion.

Over decades of watching and participating with the Board of Game, I’ve learned that persistence is the best tool of Alaska special interests. When Alaska special interests stick with their agenda and pester the board long enough, they eventually create the impression their special interest is broadly supported. That is, special interests typically try to create the impression their special interest represents the general public interest. Sometimes this strategy works because the Board of Game serves general public interest.

The Alaska Constitution (Article VIII Section 1.) defines Alaska’s natural resource policy by mandating development and maximal (conserved) use of Alaska’s natural resources in the general public interest.

In light of state policy, the ever-recurring “Denali buffer zone” looks like special interest, not general public interest. Although the buffer zone idea is tiresome, and the Park Service effort to manage the state’s resources is continuously annoying, these items trouble me less than special interest efforts to manipulate the Board of Game via orchestrating apparent Alaska opinion.

I hope the Board of Game will remember Alaska’s constitutional policy as well as the facts and history of previous Denali buffer zone experiments. If it does, I expect the board, at its March meeting, will consign this proposal to the wastebasket of special interest proposals. Still, I remain concerned about special interest efforts to generate the impression of Alaska opinion.

Wayne E. Heimer, a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, has been watching and participating in Alaska’s wildlife management system for more than 50 years. He lives in Fairbanks.

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