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Why do the Guys with the Guns Get to Win?

Letters / Anchorage Press /  May 26, 2005

So many Alaskans loved the Toklat wolf pack: we wanted them to thrive; we participated in the legislative process to protect them; we delighted each summer when a new litter was born; we drove our families and friends to Denali to see them, to grab even the quickest glimpse of wolves!

How amazing, how truly wonderful it has been over the years to see wild Alaska wolves in Denali. They got used to us being around, of course, generation after generation. That's why the Toklat Wolf Pack was the most famous, most photographed, most studied group of wolves in scientific history.

We did everything we could to protect them, and this winter Gov. Murkowski's administrators finally assured they were dealt a crippling blow. Murkowski did nothing to protect them and everything to advance their killings, by withdrawing their protected lands and fostering statewide programs of wolf slaughter.

When I first met the black alpha male, it was down at the bend of the Toklat River, over by Adolph Murie's cabin. He lowered his head, looked straight at me with yellow eyes, and padded toward me. I was on the park road, kneeling down so as not to pose a threat. Tour buses and park vans were pulled over, and everyone was leaning out of the windows, gawking wide-eyed and aiming cameras.

He'd been walking up the park road, trailed by two small silver females. While his head was up and alert, the females kept theirs down and made themselves small, kind of tucking their bodies in like they hoped nobody would see them. The last one, the smallest of all, clearly was worried. But for us to see three of the world-famous Toklat Wolf pack - it was an amazing experience, everyone was so excited.

I first studied this pack when I was a student at UAF in the 1970s. Like a lot of Alaskans, we learned about them through Adolph Murie's scientific writings in The Wolves of Mount McKinley.

I had to wave the black alpha off as he approached me: I had to swing my arm wide and say, "No!" I didn't want to. I wanted to encounter him, all scrawny and long-legged that he was. Man! - it was both thrilling and scary to watch him move right at me.

I waved him off because I didn't want him to get the idea it was OK to approach people: because people kill wolves. And that's what they did.

They shot the black alpha while he was looking for his mate, the little silver trailing directly behind him. She'd been shot earlier. I guess he hadn't figured out that she was gone to him, because he kept wandering around, looking.

The second, smaller female was killed this winter, too: trapped and shot. I remember how she finally became so frightened by all the people on the park road that she skittered and split off from the other two, running down to the river where she set up a howl, trying to figure out how to get past all us human gawkers and catch up. She was such a small little thing and such a howl we heard from her: it rocked off the hillside and the river rocks and trees. And now she's dead, and the alpha female is dead, and the black alpha is dead, too.

So many Alaskans are in mourning for this pack. We talk among ourselves and say what a nightmare the Murkowski administration is in how it manages our wildlife. It's almost as if these people can't see the worth of a wild animal unless they're looking through the lens of a rifle. Just consider the title of the Department of Fish and Game's magazine, "All You Can Eat." What does that tell you about how they value our wildlife?

One last thing about that black alpha - when I waved him away he turned almost in synchronicity with my arm movement, like a dancer: I waved my arm wide and he swung away wide. And then he continued up the road, and as he did he looked at me with brows raised. You know how, when you yell at your dog too loud, he raises his eyebrows up like you've hurt his feelings? That's how the black alpha looked at me, as if to say, "Aw, man, I wasn't going to hurt you."

I wish I could have said the same back: we won't hurt you. But I understood something that he didn't. I knew about the guys with guns.

Cat Stephenson / Anchorage

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