Park Service ended a wolf study in Alaska, since so many have been killed

The state culled wolves that had been collared, and it’s no longer feasible to continue research.

 

For more than two decades, the National Park Service monitored the wolf packs in Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Now, so many of the predators have been killed by the state’s Department of Fish and Game that the feds have had to drop the program. It's no longer feasible to conduct research, according to information recently published by the watchdog nonprofit, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The state has been shooting the wolves when they wander outside the boundaries of the federal preserve, to try to increase populations of moose and caribou for human hunters. According to Greg Dudgeon, superintendent of the preserve, since 2005, 90 wolves with ranges in Yukon-Charley have been killed, including 13 radio-collared animals that were essential to the park’s study. Each of the preserve’s nine wolf packs has lost members, and three packs have been entirely eliminated, while another five have been reduced to a single wolf each. The last population count by the National Park Service in 2011 came up with 77 wolves. Since that count, the Park Service wound down its study, officially ending it in 2014.

Jeff Rasic, chief of resources for Yukon-Charley Rivers and Gates of the Arctic National Park, says that federal budget constrictions played a factor in ending the study, but so did the number of collared wolves killed by ADFG and the fact that the state stopped giving the Park Service permits for collaring wolves on state land. “The state was pretty successful in killing wolves,” Rasic adds.

A wolf runs in Denali National Park and Preserve, where wolves are protected. Although they can be killed if they exit the parks boundaries.
Kent Miller/NPS

PEER published a letter on August 8, 2016 about the impacts the state's predator killings had on the feds’ wolf study, bringing these issues back into the public eye.

"The expense of collaring and monitoring wolves for research is not sustainable when ADFG culls the same animals when located outside of the Preserve," Dudgeon wrote in the letter to Richard Steiner of PEER, who had asked him what impacts ADFG has on wolf packs.

In additional correspondence that has been made public by PEER, Bruce Dale of ADFG confirmed that from 2011 to 2015, the department killed 179 wolves through its wolf control program. Dale also confirmed that his department uses 28 radio-collared “Judas” wolves to help them locate and kill other wolves.

Last fall, the National Park Service banned several sports hunting practices within federal preserves in an attempt to protect Alaskan predators like wolves and bears. But recent news of how many wolf packs have been eliminated or severely reduced by Alaska Department of Fish and Game across the state call into question if the federal ban went far enough to protect predators. 

The 1916 Organic Act requires the National Park Service to manage wildlife for healthy populations of all animals, not just the ones that humans hunt for food. In October 2015, the Park Service made a breakthrough with something they had been asking Alaska Board of Game to do for years — exclude harmful practices within preserves like hunting wolves and coyotes with pups, baiting black and brown bears and using artificial lights to rouse hibernating bears out of their dens. The ban took effect this January.

Alaska's Board of Game says that it’s required to curb predators by a 1994 food security law that required managing for abundant ungulate populations. By reducing wolves and bears, the board said, those populations would do better, benefiting Alaskans that rely on the herds for sustenance. The ban was eventually approved within the preserves, but the practices are still allowed outside their borders. This includes directly outside Denali National Park, where in 2010 the Board of Game eliminated a 122-square-mile buffer that protected wolves from hunting and trapping.

The park’s famed East Fork wolf pack, which had 17 members in 2014, disappeared in July 2016, according to state biologists. A number of wolves were known to have been hunted and killed, but it’s not clear what happened to the rest. Three days before Dudgeon wrote about the loss of wolves in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, biologists visited the den. Vegetation had begun to creep back over the entrance, and there were signs that porcupines had taken up residence. No wolves had been there for some time. 

Anna V. Smith is an editorial intern at High Country News. She tweets

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.