Wildlife officials to close wolf harvest early along Stampede Trail

Published: Apr. 1, 2018 at 5:50 PM AKDT
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The season for hunting and trapping wolves in a small section of interior Alaska will close early this year after an unusually high number of animals were harvested from the area.

The Alaska Division of Wildlife on Friday issued an emergency order announcing that wolf hunting along the Stampede Trail west of the Savage River will be closed after April 2, about two weeks sooner than originally scheduled. Meanwhile trapping will remain open until after April 9, about three weeks sooner than the usual closing date.

Preliminary numbers show that at least eight wolves (five of which were radio-collared) have been taken in this area so far this season, about twice the yearly average. The exact number of wolves killed won’t be known until 30 days after the season closes, which is the deadline for trappers to report their harvests.

The area sits just outside the northeast boundary of Denali National Park. Wolf hunting and trapping there have been a source of controversy between conservationists and state regulators for years.

“Eight is not out of the ordinary really, but it is significantly higher and the season’s not over yet,” said Division of Wildlife Director Bruce Dale. “So the decision was made to try and manage closer to the average which is about four wolves taken from that area.”

While the numbers for this year are higher, Dale says wolf populations around Denali National Park are healthy and stable.

“They’re doing fine,” he said. “At a population level, a biological level, there’s no reason for concern.”

Conservationists have praised the emergency order, but some feel it comes too late. Biologist Rick Steiner says even small wolf harvests can have a big impact on the population, and the ecosystem as a whole.

“We have learned through the science, and we've known this for decades, that if one significant breeding individual such as a pregnant female from a family group is killed then they don't den, they don't pup that year and the pack can often disperse and disintegrate permanently,” Steiner said.

Steiner also says hunting and trapping has made wolf sighting scarce during tourist season, which is a major industry for the state.

“There's only a few taken in this area by hunting and trapping but they are immensely valuable for the visitor viewing economy in the park every summer,” he said.

Meanwhile, proponents of hunting and trapping in the area say it’s a crucial aspect of conservation.

“Hunting is important in a lot of areas to maintain populations at levels that result in healthy, sustainable populations,” Dale said.