One of the two remaining East Fork wolves of Denali National Park was shot this past weekend by a trophy hunter at a bear baiting station just outside park boundaries.
If this sounds eerily familiar, that’s because it is. This is just what happened exactly one year ago, when the pregnant female of the East Fork group was shot by an Outside trophy hunter at a bear baiting station in the same area. The loss of that one pregnant female wolf in 2015 led to the disintegration of the entire East Fork group, also called the Toklats, from 15 wolves down to just two this spring.
And now, with last weekend’s shooting of the radio-collared gray male dubbed “1508 GM” by park biologists, it appears the East Fork is down to one lone black wolf.
This is a historic loss. It leaves one remaining member of the wolf group studied by Dr. Adolph Murie, the subjects of his groundbreaking 1944 book, “The Wolves of Mount McKinley.” It leaves one from the group that Dr. Gordon Haber continued to study for another 43 years, until his untimely 2009 death in a plane crash while studying wolves.
This one family group of wolves was studied for a continuous 70 years, making them, along with the community of chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall, the world’s oldest-known, longest-studied large mammal social lineage in the wild. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this gave the East Fork wolves inestimable scientific value.
But the state of Alaska apparently has no interest in such rare scientific value, no pride in a scientific record rivaled only by that of Goodall’s chimpanzee research. The state has allowed this valuable public wildlife resource to be decimated by hunting and trapping for decades. And the National Park Service has clearly failed its mandate of protecting natural processes in the park.
The state also seems to lack regard for the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who come to Denali to see wolves, many of them Alaskans. With the loss of the East Fork group in 2015, and the Grant Creek group in 2012 (also from hunting/trapping along the park boundary), viewing success of Park wolves plummeted. Almost half of park visitors were seeing wolves in the park until these deaths; now only about 5 percent are so fortunate…