BOG tables expansion of buffer zone to protect Denali area wolves

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Game has tabled a proposal to expand a no-hunting, no-trapping buffer zone to protect wolves that stray outside Denali National Park and Preserve.

The Alaska Wildlife Alliance was asking the game board to expand the buffer zone from 90 square miles to 500 square miles to protect two more packs of wolves on the northeast boundary of the 6-million-acre park.

The board also tabled a proposal from the Wildlife Alliance to remove a sunset clause that would have made the existing closure permanent a year from now. That means the buffer zone will be eliminated next year and a new proposal must be submitted to the game board to resurrect it.

''We're getting pressure from both branches and we just decided to back off it,'' said board member Julie Maier of Fairbanks, referring to the role the buffer zone has played in the ongoing wildlife management tug-of-war between the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Tony Knowles.

Proponents of the buffer zone were staggered by the game board's action.

''This is a huge disappointment,'' Paul Joslin, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance, the state's largest wildlife preservation group. ''We're shocked.

The game board created the buffer zone in November 2000 when 30 square miles of state lands were closed to trapping and hunting of wolves. The board expanded the buffer zone to almost 100 square miles in a special meeting last year.

The pro-hunting Legislature, meanwhile, has opposed the creation of a buffer zone. When Knowles appointed wildlife photographer and buffer zone advocate Leo Keeler to the game board two years ago, the Legislature construed it as Knowles stacking the deck. In response, the Legislature convened a confirmation hearing in the middle of the game board meeting in Fairbanks and rejected Keeler's appointment.

With five of the seven members of the game board still awaiting confirmation from the Legislature, Maier said the board's decision to table the buffer zone proposal was a way to prevent providing the Legislature any ''ammunition'' to shoot down some of Knowles' recent appointments.

The game board's lack of action only means that backers of a buffer zone will intensify their fight to protect Denali Park wolves, promised Dorothy Keeler, a strong advocate of the buffer zone.

''Our efforts will escalate,'' Keeler said. ''They leave us no choice.''

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