Updated: Alaska 'Gunners' Wipe Out Wolf Pack From Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Helicopter-borne Alaskan predator control agents have killed an entire wolf pack from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, prompting the National Parks Conservation Association to call for "immediate suspension" of the program near the national preserve.
National Park Service officials, meanwhile, are wondering why the shooters killed two radio-collared wolves, as the Park Service had an agreement with Alaska Fish and Game officials that collared wolves would be spared as they were part of a long-term study of wolf behavior in the preserve.
“We have meetings set tomorrow with state Fish and Game officials to ask that question," John Quinley, the Park Service's assistant regional director for communications and partnerships, said Thursday evening from his Anchorage office. "Basically, 'How did this happen? You’re two days into the (predator control) program and it’s already gone against the agreement that we thought we had pretty well in place, that was easy to understand.' We’re interested in how that fell apart so fast.”
The four wolves from Yukon-Charley's Weber Creek pack were killed Wednesday in the Fortymile area on the northwest side of the national preserve, the Park Service official said.
“We’ve been studying wolf populations in Yukon-Charley for 16 years and have a long data-set to understand the population dynamics," Mr. Quinley said. "These wolves are a value scientifically and they’re a value for visitors. Our position has been that we want to do all we can to maintain the naturally functionally ecosystems, which is a value of the Alaska parklands that you don’t find everywhere else.”
NPCA officials issued a statement Thursday saying "state gunners in helicopters killed the entire Weber Creek wolf pack from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, including two collared wolves from a 16-year National Park Service scientific study."
"NPCA calls for the immediate suspension of the state’s wolf eradication program in and around Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve until the Park Service is fully satisfied that the biological integrity of Yukon-Charley wolf packs can be evaluated and a healthy population of wolves can be ensured," the parks advocacy group added.
The shootings of the pack came despite a Park Service request that no wolves from the nine packs denning in the preserve be shot due to this year’s high natural winter mortality, NPCA officials said. Park Service officials said the killings of the radio-collared wolves was the result of some sort of miscommunication.
“It seemed like fairly clear communication to us that they weren’t supposed to shoot wolves with collars," Mr. Quinley said. "Maybe that wasn’t as clear to somebody, but it’s definitely a concern to us.
"The number of wolves that in packs which spend considerable time in the preserve is now getting down lower than we would like it to be. I think we were at 30 (individuals), and we’re at 26," he added.
Compounding the problem is that harsh conditions this winter killed 38 percent of the preserve's wolves, a percentage that Mr. Quinley said was "on the high side of normal."
The shootings come less than two weeks after a particularly contentious Alaska Board of Game meeting when it comes to wolves and national parks. While the board was asked at one point to expand a no-take wolf buffer zone in an area surrounded on three sides by Denali National Park and Preserve, the board completely removed the buffer. And the state agency also did away with a regulation that required Alaska game officials to obtain Park Service permission before they conduct any predator control on parklands.
The second action, though, likely will have little affect on park lands, said Mr. Quinley, as the Park Service maintains authority over wildlife in those areas. "Our rules," he said, "prohibit the manipulation of one species to benefit another."
For Alaska game officials, though, the preference is to do away with predators so there is more game for hunters, said Mr. Quinley.
“They want to grow more moose and caribou," the Park Service official said. "They want to do it here in the Fortymile country, they want to do it south of Denali in those game management units. ... There’s a high interest in state Fish and Game and the Board of Game to grow moose and caribou for hunters, both local hunters or those from Anchorage, Fairbanks and the lower 48.”
Friends of Animals has called for a boycott on tourism travel to Alaska this year because of the Game Board's decision to do away with the buffer zone.