FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The National Park Service has sent a letter to Gov. Tony Knowles endorsing a protective buffer zone for wolves around Denali National Park and Preserve.
That came two days after Park Service biologists testified before the state Board of Game that there was no biological reason for doing so.
Donald Barry, an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said wildlife managers have a responsibility to go beyond biology and enhance viewing opportunities.
''The Board of Game has an opportunity to extend protection to the best-known and most-viewed group of wolves in the world,'' Barry wrote in a letter dated Monday.
Just how much influence the Park Service's position will have on the Game Board's decision to establish such a protective area for wolves remains to be seen. But Knowles' spokesman Bob King said the letter probably will find its way into the hands of Game Board members.
The board is meeting in Fairbanks this week. The creation of a buffer zone around Denali Park is one of the more than 130 proposals the seven-member panel is considering.
Most of the debate before the Game Board has centered around killing bears and wolves to boost moose and caribou populations for hunters, or protecting the predators so they can be seen by tourists.
Knowles has been criticized by hunters and trappers for pressuring the board to establish a buffer zone and other wildlife viewing areas. Knowles recently told the board he won't consider wolf control programs anywhere in the state unless a buffer zone was created.
The board already has approved predator control plans for McGrath and around the Nelchina basin, where moose populations have dropped dramatically.
Those complaints remained constant during Monday's testimony.
Failing to implement wolf control programs in areas like McGrath and the Nelchina Basin simply will simply compound the problem in other areas, said Rod Arno of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest pro-hunting group with some 10,000 members.
Arno said that about 70 percent of the meat harvested by urban residents in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley is taken from Game Management Units 13 and 20.
State wildlife biologists have said that wolves and bears have decimated the moose population in Unit 13, the Nelchina Basin, and the state is proposing to shorten the moose hunting season in Subunit 20A, which includes the Tanana Flats, because the moose population there has come to a standstill.
''If we can't get active management to do some predator control to get the prey populations up, where are those hunters going to go?'' Arno asked.
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