Board of Game supports shortened wolf hunting season north of Denali National Park
NPS Proposal passes at March Statewide Regulations Meeting
Without admitting that there is a conservation problem for Denali wolves, the Alaska Board of Game recently voted, 5-2, to shorten the wolf hunting season on a limited area of state lands in the Wolf Townships (see map on this page). This shortened season was brought forth by the National Park Service in Proposal 141, and was defended before the Board of Game by Superintendent Don Striker and Resources Chief Dave Schirokauer at its Statewide Regulations meeting in Fairbanks, March 18-29, 2016. Proposal 141 ended wolf hunting on April 15th rather than May 31st. Board members Turner, Brown, Spraker, Hoffman and Probasco voted Yes, members Sager-Albaugh and Fanning voted No.
We celebrate this seemingly small but still significant change in regulation of hunting on lands outside Denali National Park, a change that will protect wolves that den inside the park during a time when they take predictable forays onto state lands nearby and when the taking of pregnant females is a real threat to pack integrity. We would have preferred more comprehensive protection, but agree that it is unlikely under the current Board of Game. Read more details, below.
Proposal 141 started as an Agenda Change Request (ACR)
It was not certain that Proposal 141 would be considered this year at the March Board of Game Statewide Regulations meeting, because it was a regional proposal. To get onto the agenda it had to be passed through the Agenda Change Request (ACR) process. Although ACRs were considered twice, once in August 2015, and once in January 2016, NPS did not introduce its ACR until January 2016. DCC had also proposed ACRs establishing a more inclusive “no wolf kill” buffer zone surrounding the park. However, neither of DCC’s ACRs was accepted for consideration at the March 2016 meeting. A major issue identified by NPS and DCC in our ACRs was the problem created by increasing numbers of hunters being in the field because recently-adopted regulations allowed the killing of brown bears at black bear bait stations. Such regulations appear to have made it more popular to go bear hunting in the Wolf Townships, and the shooting of wolves was a foreseeable consequence. As DCC members recall, two wolves were shot near a bait station in the Wolf Townships during May of 2015, necessitating an Emergency Closure. We learned, later, that nine bait stations in the Wolf Townships were registered last year, and that the bait station in question subsequently received two citations (for unrelated rule infractions). Although DCC has consistently reminded the Board of Game that hunting and trapping of Denali wolves on state lands adjacent to the park puts pack integrity and viewability at risk, we are glad that NPS finally got the Board of Game’s attention in 2016. It seemed unfair that DCC’s ACRs were voted down while NPS’s was accepted, but we are glad that at least some recognition of the problem has occurred.
Board of Game passes 141, while disavowing a conservation problem
During their discussion of Proposal 141, Board of Game members made sure they were on record denying a conservation problem with Denali wolves. Their reasoning for supporting Proposal 141 referenced the importance of the issue to many Alaskans, the fact that the Middle Nenana Fish and Game Advisory Committee had voted for Proposal 141, and the fact that Proposal 141 was limited and addressed the identified problem of bear bait stations in the Wolf Townships. The denial of a conservation problem is an oft-repeated assertion of the Board of Game. It almost seems as if, in the mind of the Board of Game, there is no way that a predator like the wolf could have a conservation problem, even when numbers are low. See accompanying charts, courtesy of NPS, that show the unprecedented recent decline in numbers of Denali wolves. In any case, it is unlikely that more comprehensive buffer zone proposals will reach sympathetic ears in 2017. Members of the board made that fact abundantly clear at the March 2016 meeting. The stipulations of Proposal 141 will not even take effect until after the July 2017, after the next Interior Region Board of Game meeting, although we asked that they be allowed to take effect in 2016. We at DCC are not sure we will bring a buffer proposal in 2017, if its chances are so near zero!
Board of Game views reflect political realities, federal overreach mantra
Under past state administrations, the Board of Game supported closed areas around Denali National Park, based on the importance of park wolves. There is no doubt that the Board of Game has the authority to make these decisions. However, the current members of the Alaska Board of Game have chosen to think of protection of predators as a “federal” value, a value that stops at the park boundary, despite the fact that Alaska Department of Fish and Game management documents list conservation as one of many state management goals for wolves. As long as the Board of Game members reject their role here, rational consideration of buffer proposals at Denali is unlikely.
In other activities against “federal overreach,” the Board of Game has written a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service opposing a proposed federal regulation that would outlaw certain methods and means for take of predators, including taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs, taking brown bears over bait, taking of bears using traps or snares, taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season (May 1-August 9), and taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred on US Wildlife Refuges. Clearly, the “federal overreach” mantra is political, and can only be changed through political change, which means election of an Alaska Legislature and a federal delegation that are better educated and more critical of our state’s wildlife management practices.
The Alaska Legislature has a large role to play in confirming candidates for the Board of Game and writing wildlife management statutes. We appreciate the efforts of Alaska House Representative Andy Josephson to put protection of Denali wolves and support for Board of Game diversity into bills. However, because of his position in the minority caucus, none of his bills has received a hearing. Be aware, Alaskan DCC members, that the entire Alaska House of Representatives is up for election in November 2016. We should make the most of this opportunity to educate the candidates.