Denali National Park Wolves

Denali National Park Wolves: The Issue

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(Most of the text on this page has been lifted from the letter attached below in current events. The letter does an excellent job of summarizing this issue and its history, and is well worth reading in its entirety.)

Denali Wolf

Denali Wolf – Photo by Johnny Johnson
Click to enlarge

Along with Yellowstone National Park, Denali National Park is known as one of the best places in the world to view wolves in the wild. Over 400,000 visitors come to Denali each summer, many citing their desire to see wolves as one of the main wildlife viewing objectives for visiting the park. More than anywhere else in Alaska, wolves in the eastern part of Denali provide significant benefits to Alaska tourism. Denali visitors contribute millions of dollars each year to the state economy. Wolf viewing opportunities have historically been provided by three packs that den and range near the park road – Grant Creek, Nenana Canyon, and East Fork packs. These three family groups have been severely disrupted by trapping and hunting on state lands east of the park boundary.

In 2010  wolf-­‐viewing success for the park’s 400,000 visitors was estimated by NPS staff at 44%, declining to 21% in 2011, and then to 12% in 2012. The 2013 wolf-­‐sighting result, just released by Denali National Park, reflects a further decline, down to just 4%.

Current Denali National Park Wolf Events:

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Request for Permanent Buffer

On November 27th, 2013, a group of concerned individuals and organizations wrote to US Secretary of the Interior Sally and Jewel, and Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, asking that you negotiate an easement exchange or purchase to secure a permanent wildlife conservation buffer east of Alaska’s Denali National Park. We propose a “win-­‐win” exchange of property interests (e.g., easements) between the U.S. and State of Alaska, or an easement purchase by the U.S., to maximize long-­‐term public benefit”.

The letter  is available to read here:

History of the Denali National Park Wolf Issue

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In recognition of the exceptional economic value of wolf viewing in Denali, from 2000-­‐2010 the state had closed lands adjacent to the park’s eastern boundary to the taking of wolves to protect wolf-­‐viewing opportunities in the park. Together, the Stampede Closed Area and the Nenana Canyon Closed Area covered approximately 122 square miles of important wolf habitat. The closed areas had negligible effect on the few wolf trappers and hunters who had operated in the area, as adjacent areas remained open to their activities.

Map of the Denali National Park Wolf buffr zone

The Denali Buffer Zone
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But it was clear that even the former state buffer did not adequately protect Denali National Park wolves. Analysis of data from NPS radio collars showed that two of three most commonly viewed wolf packs in the park travel into areas east of the buffer, where they remained vulnerable to trapping and hunting. State records indicated that, even with the buffer in place, there was an upward trend in the numbers of park wolves taken, and in some years, a significant percentage of the total park wolf population was taken east of the park. And as the science has established, it’s not just about numbers of wolves taken. The loss of family group integrity and unique behaviors due to take east of Denali has been dramatic.

At its spring 2010 meeting, the Alaska Board of Game eliminated the former Denali buffer altogether. Despite several public proposals to the Board to expand the existing buffer (as it was clearly insufficient to provide adequate protection to park wolves), including a proposal from Denali National Park itself, as well as overwhelming public support for retaining and expanding the buffer, the Board not only denied all buffer expansion proposals, but voted to eliminate the existing buffer altogether. At the same time, the Board established a moratorium on future consideration of Denali buffer proposals from the public for at least 6 years.

Denali National ParkClick for larger view

Denali National Park
Click for larger view

Subsequently, several civil society interests in Alaska (including some signatories to this letter) proposed that the Board of Game and/or the Alaska Department of Fish 3 and Game reestablish a Denali buffer, but all such requests were declined. At the time, citizen petitioners predicted that the continued exposure of Denali wolves to take across the eastern boundary would result in a further drop in the park wolf population and visitor viewing success -­‐ precisely what we now know has occurred. It is apparent, and unfortunate, that current wildlife management authorities in the State of Alaska do not consider sustainability of wildlife viewing at Denali a management goal. But as we have learned, even if one state administration were to establish a buffer, a subsequent administration may remove such. Thus we feel there is clear need for a permanent buffer to sustain and grow the Denali wildlife viewing economy.

Today, the wolf population across the 6 million acre park and preserve has declined from 143 wolves in fall 2007 to just 55 in spring 2013 – a drop of more than half in six years. And, just since the state removed the buffer in 2010, wolf-­‐viewing success for the park’s 400,000 annual visitors has dropped precipitously from 44% in 2010 to just 4% in 2013. This is truly alarming, and again, as far as we are aware, unprecedented in the history of the national park system.

Denali National Park Wolves: What You Can Do

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  1. Land Exchange. Ask the State of Alaska and U.S. Department of Interior to work together to create a permanent protective buffer for Denali’s wolves on state lands along the northeastern borders of DenaliNational Park. Ask for this “win-win” solution: that the State of Alaska transfer a permanent no-take wildlife buffer conservation easement east of the national park to the federal government, in exchange for the federal government transferring a like-valued easement, federal surplus property, or purchase value, to the State of Alaska. A no-take buffer northeast of the park is the only way to rebuild and then sustain Denali’s wolf populations.

Write to:
Governor Bill Walker:
Don Striker, Denali National Park Superintendent:
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell:


Jon Jarvis, Director, National Park Service in DC:

Joel Hard, NPS Alaska Deputy Regional Director:

Sam Cotten, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Mark Myers, Commissioner, Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources:

  1. Close All Park Lands to Wolf Hunting and Trapping. Contact Denali National Park Superintendent Don Striker (cc Jon Jarvis and Joel Hard, above) requesting that he issue emergency regulations closing wolf hunting and trapping on Denali National Park & Preserve lands. Wolf killing is still allowed in the 1980 park addition and the preserve lands.
  2. Make Allocation of Federal Funds Conditional on Cooperation by the State. Ask Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell (copy Jon Jarvis and Joel Hard) to condition the annual transfer of federal funds to state wildlife agencies – through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act – upon the states cooperatively managing wildlife around federally protected areas, such as national parks and wildlife refuges. Alaska received $48 million from the Dept. of Interior in 2013, most of it going to the ADF&G Game Division which conducts “intensive management” (predator control) adjacent to national parks and refuges, at cross purposes to federal goals of wildlife conservation and restoration.

Thank you for speaking up for Denali’s wolves!

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