For Immediate Release: Oct 10, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
1% Viewing Success Record Low After State Eliminated No-Hunt Buffers
Washington, DC — One of Alaska’s major tourist attractions is on the verge of extinction. The chances of a visitor seeing wolves in the wild inside Denali National Park and Preserve have dropped to 1%, down from viewing success as high as 45% in 2010, according to National Park Service (NPS) figures posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The wolves of Denali have historically been one of the world’s most viewed populations in part because they can be seen inside one of the planet’s few remaining intact functioning ecosystems, near the park’s main road. Approximately 600,000 visitors come to Denali each year, spending more than $600 million on lodging, travel and other purchases. Many visitors report the desire to see wolves as one of their main objectives for visiting the park.
From 2000 until 2010, the State of Alaska prohibited wolf hunting and trapping in two areas bordering the park, the Stampede and Nenana Canyon Closed Areas, in order to protect two of the park’s three most-commonly viewed wolf packs. At the spring 2010 meeting of the Alaska Board of Game, the NPS proposed to expand the eastern boundary of the Stampede Closed Area. Instead, the Board of Game eliminated both closed areas to allow hunting and trapping wolves in all areas bordering the park. The Board most recently rejected reopening the buffers this August.
Since the state removed the no-take buffers, wolf-viewing success in Denali has fallen from the 45% success rate estimated by NPS staff in 2010 to 22% by 2011, 12% in 2012, and 5% in 2016. In 2019, that number dropped further to 1% – an all-time low.
“The plight of Denali’s wolves is an international ecological disgrace and an embarrassment for the State of Alaska,” stated Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member who has led efforts to persuade the State of Alaska to restore the no-hunt buffers. “To benefit a few trappers, the State of Alaska is killing the goose laying the proverbial golden egg of millions in tourist dollars and one of the world’s best wildlife viewing opportunities.”
The NPS figures gibe with a survey of Denali bus-drivers which found that sightings of wolves along park roads had become increasingly rare dropped to “not quite nonexistent.” Similarly, state predator control has so diminished packs in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve that the NPS ended a more than 20-year research program because the wolf population is “no longer in a natural state” and lacks enough survivors to maintain a “self-sustaining population.”
At the same time, Trump administration policies promote deferral to state hunting practices at the expense of national park resources. In addition, all national park units that allow hunting or fishing are under orders to drop all restrictions stricter than state game laws.
“Under Trump, the degradation of Denali is a taste of things to come,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “For the first time in memory, national parks can no longer protect their own wildlife.”