Toklat pack accepts wolf

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A wolf that was moved from its home range east of Fairbanks six months ago has roamed about 200 miles and joined the most famous wolf pack in the world.

The wolf, a male, is one of two all-black wolves that joined the Toklat pack in Denali National Park and Preserve in May after being moved from the upper Middle Fork of the Chena River a month earlier as part of the Fortymile Caribou Herd recovery plan.

Biologists with the National Park Service confirmed the wolf's identity by an ear tag number when it was darted in late September to be radio-collared.

Ironically, the wayward wolf may have filled what was a gaping hole in the Toklat pack. The alpha male in the Toklat pack was one of three Denali Park wolves, all from different packs, that died in March after biologists darted them.

''This is an incredible twist,'' said Alaska wolf watchdog Gordon Haber, the independent biologist who tracks the Toklat wolves for the animal rights group Friends of Animals.

The Toklat, or East Fork pack as it is sometimes called, is the best known of Alaska's approximately 1,000 wolf packs. An estimated 20,000 people view and photograph the wolves each year while touring Denali National Park and Preserve.

With wolf control one of Alaska's most controversial wildlife management debates, the Toklat pack has attracted added attention in recent years because of efforts by animal rights organizations to create a no-trapping, no-hunting buffer zone on state land around Denali Park to protect the wolves when they venture outside park boundaries.

The black wolf was one of three that biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game moved from the upper Middle Fork of the Chena River to the Melozitna River, about 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks, to reduce predation on Fortymile caribou in an attempt to boost the size of the caribou herd for hunting.

For Haber, the situation is a sort of political justice. Haber refers to the Fortymile caribou plan, in which about 20 breeding pairs of wolves were sterilized and another 140 were moved, as a ''human screwup.'' He uses the same term to describe the deaths of the three wolves that were darted by biologists in Denali Park in March.

''One human screwup in the Fortymile ends up compensating for another human screwup in Denali; think of the coincidence there,'' Haber said. ''There are probably 1,000 different groups of wolves in Alaska; what are the odds those wolves would show up here? It's an unbelievable coincidence.''

State and federal wildlife biologists, however, view it as natural wolf behavior. It's well documented that wolves cover great distances in Alaska and join other packs or form new ones.

''Two hundred to 400 miles is not unusual,'' said state wildlife biologist Bob Stephenson, who wrote a report about the movements of radio-collared wolves in Alaska six years ago.

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