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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Open Letter: ADF&G Commissioner Cotten

By Rick Steiner


December 11, 2015
Friday AM

You may have seen the Fall update released last week by NPS on the Denali wolf population, which showed a slight increase in numbers, but a continued decrease in viewing success. This year, only 5% of the park visitors were able to see wolves, thus some 500,000 paying visitors were deprived this opportunity.

But the real news is that the most viewed family group in the Park - East Fork - declined from 17 in Fall 2014 to only 4 this Fall. Just as we had feared after a hunter shot and killed the pregnant female from East Fork in May at a bait station in the Stampede area, the East Fork group did not pup, and largely dispersed from the park.

You recall my initial request to you on Dec. 1, 2014 asking you to close the former buffer area NE of Denali to protect park wolves there, and again several requests for you to do this in April 2015, after another East Fork yearling was killed by a snare in the area, and wandered into the park where it bled to death (photo attached).

However, you ignored these repeated requests until mid-May, only after the pregnant female from East Fork and its male companion were killed at a bear bait station. But by then, it was too late.

Precisely as we feared at the time, the loss of this East Fork female in May led to a situation similar to the Grant Creek family group decline in 2012 (which dropped from 15 to 3 after the trapping of the breeding female in the Stampede). It seems pretty straightforward -- no breeding female, no pups, no denning, dispersion of the family group, and further impact to visitor viewing success.

Again, as with Grant Creek in 2012, the disintegration of East Fork in 2015, under your watch, underscores the fact that the loss of just one important breeding individual wolf to hunting/trapping can have disastrous consequences to family group integrity. This has been proven many times, and is well documented in the scientific literature.

But because you chose to ignore our repeated requests to close the area in April, a couple of out of state hunters got to kill these two East Fork wolves, thereby seriously eroding the East Fork family group in Denali National Park and their potential viewing by hundreds of thousands of paying visitors. This is absolutely clear, and absolutely unnecessary. Indeed, it is contrary to the state constitution, which requires resources to be managed for the "maximum benefit of the people."

With respect, neither the state nor the Park Service seem able to admit the true impact and cost of trapping/hunting of Denali park wolves, as doing so would run counter to your old-school, politically convenient narrative. That you continue to value the killing of Denali wolves by a few hunters and trappers, over the enormous non-consumptive value to hundreds of thousands of visitors who simply want to experience wolves in the wild in an easily accessible location, is truly unconscionable. This sort of 'management for the few over the many' needs to end. Alaskans deserve more from their state government.

You will recall our meeting with you, the Governor, and the Lt. Governor in June to discuss our proposed wildlife conservation easement on state lands in this area, which we understood you would explore. Yet we understand that, to date, nothing has progressed on that proposal. Further, you declined our additional requests to close the area this summer and fall, thus the area remains open to hunting and trapping of park wolves at present. How many more incidents such as this do we need before the state does the right thing?

As I told you last April, you may not have been the one who set the trap that killed the East Fork yearling, or the one who pulled the trigger killing the pregnant female of the group, but you could have prevented it, and you didn't. You continue to permit this erosion of public resources of Alaska. I hope you see your role in this, that this is most certainly contrary to the highest interest of the people of Alaska, and that you will correct this.

Again, we ask you to issue an immediate Emergency Closure to the former buffer area to protect and rebuild the Denali wolf population and viewing amenity, and to secure the wildlife conservation easement we proposed in 2013, and discussed with you all in June.

In the interest of full transparency, I am forwarding this email to Alaska media. The Alaska public deserves to know all of this.


Rick Steiner
Oasis Earth
Anchorage, Alaska

Received December 09, 2015 - Published December 11, 2015




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