ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A buffer to protect a wolf pack that occasionally strays outside Denali National Park and Preserve is working well, but another pack is under pressure from hunters and trappers, the Alaska Board of Game was told Thursday.
The board is considering whether to continue the buffer in state land adjacent to the northeast corner of the park 240 miles north of Anchorage. Ninety-three wolves live in the 6-million-acre park.
Wolf hunting and trapping now is prohibited in the 72-square-mile buffer but that protection is scheduled to end March 31.
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance also wants the board to create a new zone, essentially tripling the size of the buffer, to protect wolves in the Mount Margaret pack that venture outside the park just south of the existing buffer.
Both packs live near the park highway and are the best chance for park visitors to see a wolf in the wild.
The board is hearing two days of testimony. It is expected to reach a decision Friday.
The wildlife group says the buffers will increase wildlife viewing opportunities. But opponents say they will further restrict hunting and trapping opportunities.
The Middle Nenana River Fish and Game Advisory Committee in nearby Healy opposes any kind of buffer zone, pointing to the expansion of the park already from 2 million to 6 million acres.
Layne Adams, a wildlife research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said a 16-year study of radio-collared park wolves shows that hunting has played a minor role in wolf mortality. About 60 percent of park wolves that died during the study period were killed by other wolves and 30 percent died from natural causes, he said.
The best-known group, the Toklat wolves, rarely ventures outside of the park or the buffer zone, Adams said. But the Mount Margaret wolves stray more often.
The two wolf packs consist of 14 members -- four in the Toklat pack and 10 in the Mount Margaret group.
Between 1997 and 2001, an average 1.4 wolves were taken in what is now the Toklat wolf buffer zone. In the proposed zone, 2.6 wolves were taken, said Don Young, the Fairbanks area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The wolves are being harvested by one or two hunters or trappers, he said.
Barbara Brease of Healy, who has a cabin in the proposed buffer zone, encouraged the board to keep the buffer zone and establish the new one to help protect locals from the hunting and trapping activities. She told the board three dogs have been snared and one captured in a leg hold trap just outside the park.
''This is where a lot of people like to ski with their dogs,'' she said.
Last year she found caribou remains for baiting past the close of the trapping season next to the park highway.
''I was shocked,'' she said. ''This was right there and right next to the highway.''
Lowell Thomas Jr., a former lieutenant governor and state senator, also testified in favor of the buffers. For many years he was in the air taxi business flying people to Wonder Lake inside the park, he said.
Seeing a wolf ''was really the high spot of their visit to Denali Park,'' Thomas told the board.
Park Superintendent Paul Anderson also spoke out in favor of viewing opportunities for park visitors. He said between 15,000 and 20,000 of the approximately 200,000 visitors that tour the park in buses each year see wolves.
''Nowhere else in Alaska and nowhere else in the country can you see wildlife as you can in Denali National Park,'' he said.
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