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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Gordon Haber Feared Dead

Craig Medred / Alaska Dispatch / October 16, 2009

Biologist Gordon Haber loved wolves. Most of all, he loved the wolves of the Toklat pack in Denali National Park, and it now it appears that love has cost him his life.

Haber, 67, and Denali Park pilot Dan McGregor were flying to observe the wolves this week when their single-engine airplane disappeared. A search found it Thursday afternoon on a steep slope west of the East Fork of the Toklat River, Denali Park spokeswoman Kris Fister reported.

One person was known to be dead, and it was suspected that both Haber and the 35-year-old McGregor had died in the crash.

"A search plane was able to land (late) in the afternoon on the river bar approximately one-half mile below the crash site, and an Alaska State Trooper hiked to the scene to investigate,'' Fister said. "The aircraft was substantially damaged by the impact and the post crash fire, but the trooper was able to determine the presence of human remains before increasing darkness prevented his further investigation."

A search team was camped near the wreckage Thursday night waiting for the light of morning so they could investigate.

Haber had been studying wolves in Denali Park since his days as a temporary park service employee there in the 1960s. Friends said that over the years he came to think of the wolves, particularly those in the Toklat pack, as family. He attributed to them a "culture,'' and repeatedly crossed swords with biologists in the park service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game who disagreed, and thought wolves should be "managed'' just like any other big game animals.

Haber was sued by a trapper after he let a legally trapped wolf out of the man's snare. A state court held for the trapper and ordered Haber and Friends of Animals, his sponsor, to pay $150,000. Haber was undeterred.

A former hockey player, he held his view stubbornly. That made him an easy man to for many to dislike and an easy man for many to admire. He liked to call himself an "independent biologist," but he was a key employee of Friends of Animals, an animal protection group fighting Alaska wolf killing programs in the 1980s to this day.

Haber was their expert. It was a role that strained his relationships with other wolf scientists. It didn't help that he sometimes borrowed other people's data without asking, or took positions -- among them the idea of a wolf culture -- hard to support with data.

Once he told the nation's eminent authority on wolves that he only started studying the animals because it was a good way to meet women. There have indeed, too, been many women drawn to the cause of saving wolves in the last three decades.

But though Haber might have had an eye for the ladies, his true love was for the wolves. He spent thousands of hours in the field watching them. He never seemed to tire of it. It appears it was what he was doing right up until the end.


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