DNP Wolf Viewing Success Plummets

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:

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