Emergency order closes wolf season along Alaska’s Stampede Trail

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Alaska state biologists have issued an emergency order closing the wolf hunting and trapping season on state land along the Stampede Trail.

The Department of Fish and Game said that “preliminary data indicate up to eight wolves have been killed this year in the area near the Stampede Trail,” the Daily News-Miner reported.

The department said the average area hunt, which includes land adjacent to the eastern boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve, has been about four wolves per year for the last five years.

Hunting season for wolves had been scheduled to run through April 15 and trapping season was to end on April 30. The wolf hunting season will remain open an additional week for trappers, until April 9.

The final number of wolves legally killed in the unit won’t be known until trappers report how many they killed. They have until 30 days after the season closes to file their reports.

“Current levels of wolf harvest do not cause a biological or conservation problem for wolves in Unit 20C, which includes a large portion of Denali National Park and Preserve,” Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale said. “However, there is the potential for more wolves to be harvested this season.”

The area has been the site of a years-long political and public policy battle about the killing of wolves that roam on state and federal land, the News-Miner reported.

Opponents of wolf hunting and trapping the area say the number of wolves being killed is hurting the overall wolf population in the region, especially in Denali National Park, where reported wolf sightings by visitors have declined in recent years.

“This high level of take has impacted several wolf family groups, ecological dynamics, and the prospects for wolf viewing for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park – our top value tourism destination in Alaska,” said Rick Steiner, a years-long vocal advocate for a no hunting or trapping buffer zone on state land along the Denali National Park boundary.

Steiner praised Gov. Bill Walker and Cotten for the decision, though he said the closure affects an area smaller than what he and others sought on March 24 in a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten.

“It is a recognition of the exceptional value of Denali wildlife to the state’s tourism industry,” he said. “The fact is that this area should never have been open to wolf hunting/trapping in the first place. The area we proposed to be closed is much larger than what the state has closed here, but at least it is something.”