Wolves With Pups Open To Hunting Inside Denali National Park On September 1
 
Unless the National Park Service takes long overdue action, an important wolf family will again be at high risk during the annual Kantishna subsistence hunt in the heart of Denali National Park. Certain local hunters are eligible under a provision of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to obtain permits from the National Park Service (NPS) for this annual September 1-30 hunt. The hunters’ objective is to shoot a moose for meat, but they are also allowed to shoot any wolves (or bears) they might see (up to 10 wolves per hunter!), even though there is no legitimate subsistence use of a wolf at this time of the year.
 
Go to Request for Kantishna wolf-hunting closure.pdf for details. The arguments in the two August 2006 letters at this link still apply. These letters are representative of other exchanges I have had with NPS officials at Denali National Park and in the Alaska Regional Office since I began raising the issue in 2003. The specific situation of the wolves that are at risk - an extended family group referred to as Swift Northeast, aka McKinley Slough - is much the same now as it was when I wrote the 2006 letters, even to the point that there are again two “runts” among at least five pups. I last observed the Swift Northeast wolves and pups during an August 11 research flight. They had moved from their nearby natal den to a homesite right in the midst of an area the Kantishna hunters have used heavily in the past, where they would be easy targets in the upcoming September 1 hunt.  For detailed background on the Swift Northeast wolves, maps showing their territory and winter migrations, and to get an idea of their biological and scientific (research) importance, go to the Reports2 page; read the paper at the December 2007 link and the appropriate sections of the research reports at the August 2007 and May 2009 links. Note especially the account of the Kantishna wolf hunt in the last two paragraphs on page 15 at the August 2007 link.
 
 
Left: One of two unusually small Swift Northeast pups plays with a 2009 sibling pup of normal size. The older wolves and sometimes even littermates seem to give extra help to disadvantaged pups such as this as the more arduous late fall-winter travel period approaches. August 2009.
 
 
Ultimately the responsibility for taking remedial action rests with Denali superintendent Paul Anderson. He has the authority to declare wolves off limit to Kantishna hunters for various reasons but has refused to do so. His primary argument to me in the past has been that he does not see a problem because the hunters have not shot any wolves yet. He insists that in any case his hands are tied, and that I should take the matter up with the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) and its local advisory commission (SRC).
 
As I explained in the 2006 letters at the above link, I have already tried the FSB and SRC routes, on numerous occasions and in various ways, predictably to no avail. Most importantly, this is an NPS responsibility. Superintendent Anderson is interpreting ANILCA selectively and ignoring provisions of the ANILCA-mandated Denali General Management Plan, among other problems, in trying to avoid this management responsibility.  
 
Leaving an illegally permitted “subsistence” wolf hunt that could amount to predator control up to the whims of individual hunters is especially offensive. It should also be remembered that Swift Northeast only began raising pups in this area in 2005, and that bad fall weather has deterred much of the hunting activity since then. It is likely more of a happenstance lack of opportunity than good will that has thus far kept hunters from shooting any of the Swift Northeast wolves. These circumstances and the biological, scientific, ethical, visitor-viewing, and other values that are at issue justify measures that Superintendent Anderson could set into motion under existing statutes and regulations to permanently ban any wolf killing in the Kantishna area, beginning with at least a temporary emergency closure in time for this year’s hunt.  
 
NPS is likely to apply a standard homesite closure around Swift Northeast’s current location, to prevent people from entering that specific area, i.e., a half mile (.8 km) or so around the location. This is an important, well established management policy for wolf homesites in Denali National Park, to prevent disturbances that could cause the wolves to prematurely vacate these important sites.
 
However, it would not be an adequate substitute for a wolf hunting closure - far from it.  
 
The wolves move their homesites unpredictably, such that it would usually be impossible for NPS or me to know this and respond in less than a few days and more likely not for at least a week. Meanwhile, it would take any hunters encountering the wolves and their pups outside the closure only minutes to shoot them. Even if the older wolves did not move the pups outside the closure, they would continue to travel outside almost daily to forage for them. Hunters could shoot them in these outside areas, no matter that the dependent pups would be left waiting for them to return.
 
Nor would delaying the wolf hunting season suffice. Wolf pelts would have subsistence value if the hunting season were delayed until the normal beginning of wolf trapping seasons across most of Alaska, i.e., in mid October or November. Nevertheless, this would still ignore the biological, scientific, ethical, visitor-viewing, and other concerns about killing these important national park wolves. Even worse would be a simple reduction of the killing limit (to fewer than 10 wolves per hunter), as discussed in the second 2006 letter at the above link.
 
What To Do
Denali superintendent Paul Anderson must be convinced to take the above action to protect wolves in the Kantishna area by September 1. Based on my attempts so far, I don’t think this is likely to happen from within NPS.  My recommendation is to try to get the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, to help out - to encourage Superintendent Anderson to close the area to wolf hunting before the season begins on September 1. Secretary Strickland oversees all matters pertaining to the national park system and fish and wildlife at the U.S. Department of the Interior and is also the Department’s Chief of Staff. I think it is possible to get messages to him via the following email address and phone number:    
 
202-208-7351
 
Provide just a brief comment about the problem and ask him to come to this site (www.alaskawolves.org - the August 16, 2009 entry on the Blog2 page) for the details. Ask him to phone me (Gordon Haber) for further discussion; he will be able to get my phone number from Anderson or staff (I do my research in Denali with an NPS permit and live just outside the park).
 
Contact your U.S. senators and representatives and ask them to request the same from Secretary Strickland.
 
Share this Web site address as widely as possible, calling attention to the August 16 entry on the Blog2 page and emphasizing the need for action by September 1. Try to get heavily visited Web sites (of all kinds) to link directly to this site. Provide the site address and/or links but please do not extract and distribute any of the blog entries or portions thereof, for any reason. I want each of these entries to be read only in its entirety and only in the context and easy reach of other material on the site. Extracting an entry is also likely to break important links within, such as to the 2006 letters, above.    
 
Be creative. Do whatever else you can think of to get influential people to read this entry and help to encourage Superintendent Anderson to take the necessary protective action by September 1.  I and many others will greatly appreciate it if he does, and I will personally thank him here.
 
Below: Two of the Swift Northeast pups follow an older sibling at a homesite where they are being provisioned, within the upcoming wolf “subsistence” hunting area. August 2009.
 
        
 
Below: The dominant female (leading) and one of last year’s pups at the homesite, within the hunting area. In the sunshine, her coat looks almost white. This would make it easier for a hunter to spot her in the distance and would turn her into an almost irresistible target. August 2009.
 
              
 
Below: Five of the Swift Northeast wolves playing in fresh powder snow. The wolf on the left is preparing to “ambush” the others but is about to be thwarted. Nine other family members are just outside the photo. Go to the October 29, 2008 blog entry (in the “Blog” archive) for the full, 9-photo sequence to see what happens. October 2008.
 
 
Aug 16, 2009
A three month old wolf pup food begs from the dominant female of the Swift Northeast family group in Denali National Park. Swift Northeast is raising at least five pups in an area of the park where hunters will be allowed to shoot wolves as of September 1, unless the National Park Service takes prompt remedial action. August 2009.