Bold wolves close Denali park campgrounds

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The National Park Service has temporarily closed one campground inside Denali National Park and Preserve and banned tent camping in a second after reports that wolves were stealing shoes or pots and pans.

Park officials closed the Igloo Creek campground, 34 miles inside the park, two weeks ago. That campground has about 10 spaces for backpackers.

On Tuesday, park officials also decided to ban tent camping in the larger Teklanika River campground about 30 miles inside the park. Campers and recreation vehicles will still be allowed in the 53-space campground because vehicles provide a buffer between people and wildlife, park officials said.

''It will be somewhat of a disappointment, but I hope people will understand that we're doing what's best for wildlife management,'' said Denali National Park superintendent Steve Martin.

Both campgrounds could be reopened within a few weeks.

The wolves belong to the nine-member Toklat or East Fork pack, a widely viewed group of wolves whose home range straddles the park road between the Sanctuary River to the east and the Toklat River to the west. The pack has become increasingly accustomed to humans and in recent years has denned and hunted near the Igloo Creek campground.

Denali park officials have for decades kept humans and bears at safe distances from each other, sometimes closing campgrounds when bears come too close or get into garbage. But this is the first time park managers can remember closing a campground because of wolves.

Those who study wolves say they are not surprised. Once widely feared, wolves are now tolerated and protected inside national parks.

As the wolves have learned they no longer need to fear humans, they have become increasingly bold, sometimes coming within feet of humans along the park road, according to park officials.

''The wolves are not being shy and that's a concern to us,'' said Gordon Olson, chief of research and resource preservation. ''These are wild animals.''

Although the wolves have not shown aggression toward humans, park officials said they are limiting camping to prevent Toklat wolves from becoming even more used to people. Wolves have only rarely attacked people, but park officials said they don't want Denali wolves to become like Algonquin Park wolves in Ontario, where four wolves have bitten five people since 1987. Those wolves at first appeared to be friendly, said Layne Adams, a wolf biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Biological Science Center.

''The Park Service is taking the cautious approach,'' Adams said. ''It's a fine line between wolves approaching humans and some sort of aggressive behavior. They are trying to prevent it from getting to the next step.''

In recent years, campers have reported about a dozen incidents of wolves stealing shoes or pots and pans at the Igloo campground just off the main park road, Olson said. They have not been quite as bold at Teklanika, also just off the road, but have recently started coming into that campground.

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