The Reality of Wolf Closures in Alaska

Wolf hunting closures in Alaska.

An often heard complaint against closures to the killing of wolves by those who dislike the idea of national park lands in Alaska goes something like this: “Isn’t 6 million acres enough?”


This comment refers erroneously to Denali National Park and Preseve as closed to wolf hunting, though 4 million acres of new park and preserve are not actually closed.


Our answer to such a question, in this example the Denali closure, is: “Isn’t 350 million acres enough for you?”

Here’s why: most of Alaska’s public federal and state lands, 350 million acres, is actually open to the killing of wolves by hunting and trapping. Seasons and bag limits are set by the State of Alaska, if they even exist (bag and seasonal limits are flagrantly liberal and in some areas are purposely non existent, likely to maximize the killing of wolves). Regulations are set for state and federal lands by the state’s Alaska Board of Game.


The reality is that in Alaska, about 96.6% (or 350 million acres) is open to killing wolves.  Relatively little of it is closed, including some municipalities, the state’s only closure, the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and pre ANILCA national Parks, (e.g.: Denali, Glacier Bay and Katmai). That is 2.4% of Alaska’s, or about 10 million acres. Keep in mind Alaska is a huge expanse more than twice the size of Texas.

See the map provided by the Alaska Dept. Of Fish & Game.


Alaska’s Wildlife Heroes: Dr. Vic Van Ballenberghe.

This is a tribute to celebrated career Alaska wildlife biologist Dr. Vic Van Ballenberghe, who’s story is featured in the current, July/August 2019 Alaska Magazine: “For the Love of Moose; a biologist’s life in Alaska.” pp 40 and 41.

Vic’s professional life as a moose specialist has also seen significant research devoted to the necessary role of wolves as apex predators. Vic has been in the forefront of integrating behavior and ecology among a field of biologists who typically focus on numbers, with seeming little interest in wildlife behavioral and social patterns such as that of wolf families.

Vic, in his retirement, is a very outspoken published critic over the resulting  demise of Alaska wildlife policy.

Alaska wildlife is currently under severe strain, with state management policy geared almost exclusively to the sport and trophy hunting interests of the minority of Alaska’s public, while continually ignoring the 85% or so of the population who do not possess hunting or trapping licenses.

Many of the dispossessed majority have for years submitted non consumptive proposals to the Alaska Board of Game of seven hunters and trappers, only to have them turned down by this quasi legislative board.

Vic scorns Alaska’s Intensive Management policy, which promotes predator slaughter to maximize ungulate harvest, establishes non-existing limits on hunting regulations for wolves, and works to remove prior airborne hunting restrictions involved in killing of bears. 

He writes passionately and is highly critical of predator control policy for publication in the Anchorage Daily News and other, professional media and contributes to wildlife forums.

Vic has served on an earlier, profoundly different Alaska Board of Game, having been  appointed to three terms by two Governors. He writes that a responsible board would in those days have never promulgated nor tolerated the reckless policies that present boards promote and to which Alaska wildlife policy has been allowed to sink in a seeming race to the bottom.

Check out Alaska Magazine’s tribute to our Alaska’s Wildlife Hero, Vic Van Ballenberghe written by Emily Mount in the July/August issue.


PRESS RELEASE: Denali National Park wolf viewing success plummets — Alaskans request emergency closure of hunt scheduled to open Aug. 10

As many feared earlier this summer, the success of wolf viewing for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Denali National Park & Preserve has plummeted, possibly to historic lows, due in part to previous hunting/trapping kills of significant breeding individuals on state lands along the Park boundary.

A just-completed (July 18, 2019) survey of 43 Park bus drivers/employees (organized by 30-year Denali bus driver and wildlife observer Bill Watkins) reported that, for the 75-day (2.5 month) period from April 27, 2019 – July 10, 2019, only 15 wolf sightings (of 20 wolves) were reported.  Two-thirds of the respondents (29 of the 43 bus drivers/employees) reported no wolf sightings at all so far this year.  This represents a significant loss in the tourism value of Alaska’s most valuable tourism asset – Denali National Park & Preserve. In addition, Denali National Park wildlife biologist Dr. Bridget Borg stated in a July 18 email her prediction that: “wolf sightings overall will be lower this year given the lack of resident pack activity in proximity to the road.”

In response, today over 60 Alaskans (and others) submitted an Emergency Petition to the Alaska Board of Game and an Emergency Order request to the ADFG Commissioner requesting that they close a small area of state lands along the Park boundary to wolf hunting, before the season is scheduled to open Aug. 10 (attached).  The ADFG Commissioner has twice before closed the area by Emergency Order at public request (2015 and 2018), but both closures came after hunting/trapping kills of significant breeding individuals from Park wolf groups, causing packs to disintegrate.  Those emergency closures were too late to help, and petitioners want to avoid a similar loss of resource value this year.

The issue of hunting/trapping of Park wildlife along the northeast boundary of the Park has been contentious since the Park was first established in 1917.  Petitioners feel that the precipitous decline in the Denali wolf-viewing resource this summer clearly meets the threshold for emergency action by the State.  Since the Board of Game removed the no-take Denali wolf buffer in 2010, three Denali wolf family groups (packs) have disintegrated due to the trapping/hunting take of significant breeding individuals on state lands along the northeast Park boundary: Grant Creek pack, 2012; East Fork pack, 2015/2016; Riley Creek pack, 2018.

And wolf-viewing success for the park’s 600,000 annual visitors (including 70,000 Alaskans) has dropped precipitously.  This decline in wildlife viewing success may be unprecedented in the history of the U.S. National Park System.  And as noted by ADFG, 97.6% of Alaska is open to wolf hunting/trapping, leaving only 2.4% of Alaska permanently closed.  The emergency petitions ask that a small wolf protection area on state lands adjacent to Denali be established, to prevent further erosion of this valuable tourism resource.

In 2018, Denali National Park & Preserve contributed over $858 million and 7,300 jobs to the state economy.  One of the primary reasons tourists come to Denali is to view wildlife, including wolves. 
In contrast to Denali, a 2008 study concluded that, following the 1995 reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park, wolf viewing has contributed $35 million annually to the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Such economic potential exists at Denali, if wolf-viewing success can be restored.

The petitions are self-explanatory, but please get in touch if you have questions.

Other contacts:

Bill Watkins, Denali bus driver of over 30 years, who organized the bus driver survey:

Bridget Borg, Denali National Park wildlife biologist:

Dave Schirokauer, Denali National Park Science Director:

Don Striker, Denali National Park Superintendent:

Kristy Tibbles, Alaska Board of Game:

Doug Vincent-Lang, Commissioner, ADFG:

What Do Alaskans Think About Alaskan Policies for Alaska’s Wildlife?: A Poll Revisited


A majority of Alaskans place high value on opportunities to experience living watchable wildlife; they implicitly suggest so by results of a statewide telephone poll calling landline and cell phone users. The poll, sponsored by the Humane Society US, was conducted mid 2018 by the Remington Research Group, a leading national Republican polling enterprise. Results are ignored in state Wildlife policy, and implications for those policies must be recognized. The poll was initiated after a proposed federal rule change was made to lower standards of stewardship in Alaska’s national park preserves to the lowest denominator so as to match state hunting regulations and egregious killing practices promulgated by the State of Alaska as permitted on state lands surrounding the park preserves. A race to the bottom.

The questions taken from the proposed changes, and unofficial results:

** Should hibernating black bear sows and cubs be hunted (killed) in their dens using artificial light?: Opposed 71%; Support 22%; Unsure 7% 

** Should dogs be used to pursue and corner bears to shoot them in a hunt? Opposed 69%; Support 26%; Unsure 5%

** Should caribou be hunted while swimming including from powerboats? Opposed 75%; Support 22%; Unsure 3%

** Should trapping and hunting of bears be prohibited using bait stations? Support 60%; Opposed prohibiting (supporting baiting) 34%;  Unsure 6%

** Should bear baiting be allowed? Oppose 50%; Support 39%; Unsure 11%

** Should hunting, killing wolves and coyotes with pups in dens be allowed? Oppose 57%; Support 34%; Unsure 8%

** Should a no kill buffer be established in the Stampede Trail area to protect  Denali National Park wolves? Support 54%; Oppose 37%; Unsure 6% 

The results of this poll must not be dismissed. They are a significant indicator as to the collective Alaska mind. Alaska wildlife policy should reflect majority Alaskan values regarding wildlife, questions about methodology and sponsorship notwithstanding.

The federally proposed changes which initiated this poll are reportedly soon to be published in the Federal Register for a public comment period.  Stay tuned.

What is ANILCA Anyway? Not a Walk in the Park…

We hear and see “ANILCA” used often in news stories about Alaska’s public lands that are in federal ownership and management, but many people do not know what ANILCA is.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act – “ANILCA” of 1980  is in short the single Congressional act that set aside for perpetual national public ownership 104 millions acres, a whole system of new national parks and national park preserves, new wildlife refuges, and new additions to an existing pre ANILCA refuge (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “ANWR”). Existing pre-ANILCA national parks were enlarged (Katmai, Glacier Bay and McKinley, now Denali National Park), and new Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Recreation Areas, all added to the tune of 104 million acres. These are publicly owned national treasures set aside and established in public ownership in perpetuity in what is arguably the most spectacular single piece of conservation legislation ever in the nation’s history.

Priceless habitats and whole intact, unspoiled wildland ecosystems have been legislatively reserved for public ownership, benefit and enjoyment in perpetuity (at least in principle, as these lands are under constant attack by corporate and now the Trump Administration).

Yet today many Alaskans, especially younger Alaskans, don’t have a clue.

Knowledgeable and engaged Alaskans and the nation’s public need know and care to be able to encourage oversight so as to ensure proper stewardship of these gems, especially to ward off numerous incursions proposed by state, federal and corporate vultures.

Even less known by a general public who otherwise may appreciate the ANILCA lands is a spectacular but little known public demonstration by one individual made to publicize and promote the ANILCA legislation, pending then in 1978-79 before Congress. That individual, who remains a true hero spark plug in the active ongoing campaign for Alaska’s public lands and watchable wildlife living on it, is Fairbanks’ Sean McGuire.  In 1978 Sean, in his ANLCA publicity campaign, walked 7,000 miles from the Yukon River to Key West Florida to promote the Congressional passage of ANILCA. This amazing feat of ANILCA support earned Sean a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records including a photograph of his finish nearly a year from his start at the Yukon River. We do not expect such dedication from others, but we expect and need much more public support for the proper stewardship of these wilderness wild land gems by an Alaska public. This is especially true today in a world that is witnessing an unprecedented, horrific extinction of wildlife species, one after another.  Sadly some mainline large environmental but uninvolved organizations with Alaska staffs, and membership are especially noticed here to pay support and get busy.

For Sean had you in mind too when he walked and walked and walked and walked for ANILCA.


— Jim K.

The Clock is Ticking on Wildlife and Wild Places

** as seen in the Sierra Borealis: Alaska Report, Sierra Club Alaska Chapter, June 2019 by Susan Hansen**

Without immediate action, more than a million species could face extinction within a few decades, according to a new report by the United Nations.(see endnote).

Keystone species like wolves, grizzly bears and polar bears are on the front lines of this crisis. Without our top predators, whole ecosystems and the endangered animals that depend on them will collapse.

In Yellowstone National Park, wolves were reintro- duced in the 1990s after the last wolf pack in Yellowstone was killed in 1926. With the reintroduction of wolves, the behavior of the herds of elk changed. The elk no longer stayed in one place where they had eaten aspen saplings down to nubbins. Thus the willow and aspen forests returned. Streams returned. And the animals (beavers, fish, frogs and songbirds) who had thrived in these streams and forests returned.

In Alaska, wolves have never been listed under ESA protections. But they have long been persecuted in Alaska through the state’s “predator control” policies, and especially. with the current political appointees by Governor Dunleavy, their future is definitely at risk.

And now, just when we desperately need to go all out to save the planet’s biodiversity, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to wipe out protections for vulnerable species. It has launched an all-out attack on the Endangered Species Act and is gunning to strip protection from gray wolves in the Lower 48.

The Trump Administration via the Department of the Interior and the US Fish & Wildlife Service proposes to remove wolves in the Midwest from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Acting Secretary of Interior, David Bernhardt claims that the gray wolf’s recovery in the Lower 48 is a “great conservation success” (March 2019 NPR).

According to Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, (CBD): “This is not a scientific determination. It’s simply an arbitrary policy choice to ignore how much [potential wolf ] habitat is unoccupied” Currently gray wolves occupy less than ten percent of their historic range. When Europeans first settled in the New World, scientists estimate that two million wolves existed in North America.

US government and state policies on hunting, trapping and poisoning wolves, erased the species from the Lower 48 states by the 1930s. Today approximately 6,000 gray wolves exist in fragmented populations across the West and Great Lakes. The Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico is struggling to exist in very small wild populations. The red wolf which once roamed throughout southeast United State is nearly extinct. (Neither the Mexican gray wolf or the red wolf would be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.)

Gray wolves in the Lower 48 were placed on the ESA list in 1974. In 2011, Congress passed legislation that removed federal gray wolf protections and returned management of the species back to state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington and Oregon, and northern Utah. In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted Wyoming’s wolves from Endangered Species Act protections. If this new Administration proposal to delist wolves passes, the wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Washington and Oregon would lose their ESA protections.

ESA requires recovery of wolves to additional areas in US. The primary purpose of the ESA is to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend (16 U.S.C. 1531(b).) The Act defines an endangered species as any species in danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of its (historic) range (16 U.S.C. 1532(6).) This means that a species cannot be considered recovered until it is no longer endangered in a significant portion of its range. Wolves remain absent or at very low numbers over significant portions of their historic range–including in the Northeast, southern Rocky Mountains, West Coast and elsewhere (“Making Room for Wolf Recovery: The Case for Maintaining Endangered Species Act Protections for American Wolves” by Amaroq Weiss, Noah Greenwald, Curt Bradley, November 2014 CBD, pp 4-5).

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the gray wolf in the Lower 48 currently occupies less than ten percent of its historic range. Thus the current administration’s proposal to delist gray wolves from the ESA protections and

to allow states to fully manage gray wolves jeopardizes the future of existing wolf populations. Small fragmented wolf populations will be subject to genetic inbreeding. Dispersing wolves will find it nearly impossible to make their way to adjacent states to establish new populations. These dispersing wolves are often young two- year-old males who leave the pack in search of a new territory and a mate.

Following the removal of Endangered Species Act protections in several Lower 48 states, some states (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, etc.) enacted aggressive hunting and trapping seasons that resulted in thousands of wolves being killed in a short period of time. Montana just announced 315 recent wolf kills–representing 40 percent of the state’s estimated population of 850 wolves. In South Dakota the state passed a law that classifies wolves as “ varmints” in the eastern half of the state. Thus they can be shot on sight. These examples show that state management of wolves has been a political, rather than a science-based endeavor. Amaroq Weiss of CBD states: “To achieve true long- term, sustainable, recovery of the gray wolf, federal protections should be maintained and recovery plans developed, with the goal of restoring connected, resilient, ecologically effective wolf populations wherever suitable wolf habitat exists…” Highly qualified wildlife biologists and other scientists should lead recovery teams to ensure a scientifically and legally defensible recovery strategy.


Send a comment on the proposal to delist gray wolves in the Lower 48 by July 15! Submit comments through the Wolf Conservation Center here.

Recommended: “Beyond Words, What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel”

Check out Carl Safina’s new book. “Beyond Words, What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel”. This adaption of Safina’s 2015 award winning “Beyond Words, What Animals Think and Feel” is aimed at children from ages 10 to 16.


In the original book Safina offers an intimate personal accounting of experiences with wild animals that challenge the fixed boundary between human and non human animals. Safina, a celebrated marine scientist, challenges reader to recalculate how we interact with animals through stories of joy, grief, jealousy and love. The story has adapted to offer these experiences and perspectives to an audience of young readers. This new release (the first of a two-part series) has quickly risen to become Amazon’s #1 top seller in Children Zoology.


Works such as these could be the key to creating a new generation of wildlife advocates, and we at AFW highly recommend reading Safina’s new work, or gifting it to a child or young adult in your life.


Check out the new book HERE.

Recommended: “The Hidden Life of Wolves”

Jim K, a member of AFW’s steering committee highly recommends National Geographic’s book “The Hidden Life of Wolves” by filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher with forward by Robert Redford.
The Dutcher’s project took them into the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, where they lived or six years near a wolf family year round. They observed and photographed the intimate lives and behavior of the wolves, including their grief at the death of a pack mate, exuberant play and friendships, excitement over birth of pups, shared role of raising pups and teaching the needed skills to survive.
The book is filled with intimate portraits of all manner of rarely seen social action and activities. The photographs are revealing, touching and intimate.
The experience has led to three documentary films and three Emmy Awards and the founding of the non profit: Living With Wolves.

Gustavus Wolves and Sea Otters

While most wolves prefer moose, deers, and mountain goats, the Gustavus pack in northern Southeast Alaska has developed a taste for sea otters, most likely due to a a rapid growth in the population in the Glacier Bay National Park.

It’s not certain how the wolves are killing the sea otters. Otters are known to come ashore during inclement weather, and it’s possible that the wolves are hunting them them then. Research also suggests that the sea otter population in Glacier Bay has reached “carrying capacity” (the point at which a habitat can no longer support the number of animals living there without damage to the habitat or animals). If this is the case, wolves could be scavenging dead animals that wash up onshore or going after weakened otters.

Check out the full story from the:

News Miner

Logging Lawsuit in Tongass National Forest Invalidated

A federal appeals court just invalidated four U.S. Forest Service logging projects in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Congratulations to Larry Edwards, Greenpeace, and all involved in the successful lawsuit!
The Tongass National Forest is not only the country’s largest national forest, but also the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. The four projects were slated to clear cut 33 million board feet of timber from a 1,700 acre section of old-growth in the National Forest. About 14 miles of logging roads would have been constructed in order to support this logging.
If allowed to go through, the logging would have destroyed critical deer habit, which serves as prey for the rare Alexander Archipelago Wolf (there could be as few as 50 left!) and is vital for subsistence farmers in the area.
Congratulations again to Larry Edwards and all involved on this huge win for Alaska’s wildlife!
Check out more information at Greenpeace.