Game Board approves protection plan for Toklat wolves

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Game passed a measure aimed at protecting the Toklat wolf pack in an area outside Denali National Park. But it's drawing fire from wildlife groups as well as hunters and trappers.

By a vote of 5-2, the board voted late Tuesday night to close 29 square miles of state land outside the park to the taking of wolves through the year 2002. The closure would expire after 2002.

The heated debate over protection of Toklat wolves has pitted backers of wildlife viewing against trappers and hunters who advocate killing wolves to boost moose populations.

Some 20,000 people view and photograph the Toklat wolves each year along the Denali Park Road. Because the wolves become habituated to humans in the park, they are easy prey for hunters and trappers when they stray outside the park. Ninety percent of the Toklat pack's range is within the park, but about 10 percent is in an area just outside the park's northeast border.

In February, Gov. Tony Knowles told the Board of Game that he would not approve state wolf control programs for the McGrath and Nelchina areas until the board sets aside areas that protect bears and wolves for wildlife viewing. McGrath area residents have complained that wolves have ravaged the local moose population on which they depend for food.

Knowles spokesman Bob King said Wednesday that it was too soon to say if the board's action to protect the Toklat wolves meets the governor's requirements.

''When the governor made his request with the Game Board he called for areas for complete protection of wolves. This is an area that has a two-year sunset on it and that's of concern,'' King said.

King also noted that the measure approved by the board does not include protection for the Sanctuary wolves, a pack that roams near the entrance of the park as well as on state lands outside the park and into more populated areas. The original proposal before the board included protection for the Sanctuary pack.

Board members Mike Fleagle and Chip Dennerlein cast the only two votes against the measure. Dennerlein voted against it because the measure would expire in two years.

Fleagle, who is also the chief of the McGrath Native Village Council, called the measure ''a significant toe hold for an attack on consumptive uses in Alaska.''

Paul Joslin, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said the measure doesn't go far enough. He said up to 600 square miles should be set aside to protect the wolves.

''What's been done for the Toklat wolves is more of a symbolic gesture than anything substantial. The Toklat wolves are the most viewed pack in the world and should be given first-rate protection. The Sanctuary wolves they left out entirely,'' Joslin said.

Board member Greg Streveler said the board worked hard to reach a compromise on the issue. He called the measure that passed a good faith effort to meet the needs of wildlife viewers and the needs of local residents who use wolves. The two-year expiration of the measure helped gain more support from board members.

But Lynn Keogh, a member of the board of the Alaska Trappers Association, said there was no scientific basis for the buffer zone.

''They need a buffer on a 4 million-acre park? That's ludicrous,'' Keogh said. ''The wolves are still viewable, they're still there, they have not been annihilated, there's no scientific reason whatsoever.''

The move will encourage the growth of a pack that is habituated to humans, Keogh said.

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