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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Mourning Howl

Biologist left a remarkable record documenting wolves

Editorial / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / October 20, 2009

Gordon Haber regularly offered controversial viewpoints during his long career as a wolf researcher, but even those who didn't always agree with his conclusions could admire his dedication to the study of wolves. His death in a plane crash last week deprives Alaska and the country of a fervent and dedicated voice in the debates about wildlife management policy.

The editorial board of this newspaper rarely agreed with Haber about wolves. He frequently advocated bans on hunting and trapping and the end of state control efforts, and he often did so with unconcealed contempt for those who disagreed with him.

To some people, this sort of behavior automatically put him in the "loopy lefty" category. Haber was a much more complicated character than that, though. He didn't publicly advertise his personal views beyond the wolf debates, but those views didn't always follow in lockstep with the environmental organizations that employed him. Like many Alaskans, he was too independent, skeptical and cantankerous to be pigeon-holed so easily.

Outside all the debates, Haber still can and should be remembered for his unparalleled dedication to wolves. Alaskans can see that dedication through his blog, www.alaskawolves.org, which remains online. There, Haber left a remarkable photographic and narrative record of his observations.

Haber's final posting, from Oct. 1, was typical. While circling in an aircraft above a small group of wolves in late August, he photographed a yearling wolf helping three pups cross a fast-moving river channel. The pictures give a fascinating glimpse into one small moment in the world of wolves.

Haber used his blog in part to call attention to what he saw as mistaken policies and conclusions on the part of state and federal agencies and even allies in the environmental movement. "There are major problems for wolves in Alaska and elsewhere from heavy government-sanctioned killing, including with the use of airplanes and snowmobiles," he wrote in one of his milder assertions.

But he also wanted the blog to convey the state of wonder in which he found himself even after 40 years of watching wolves. "I am still in awe at what I see out there," he wrote. "Wolves enliven the northern mountains, forests and tundra like no other creature, helping to enrich our own stay on the planet simply by their presence as other highly advanced societies in our midst."

To Haber and many people, those were reasons enough to protect wolves from human hunting. Other people, even those who might disagree with that conclusion, can still appreciate his life's work.

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