Last week, the Alaska Board of Game voted 4-3 to open the Northeast periphery of the Denali National Park and preserve to wolf trapping. What this means is that an area around the National Park, referred to as a “buffer zone” no longer exists. The buffer zone was put into place to help preserve the wolves that live in the park and are a huge draw for tourism and wildlife photographers. In recent years, pack leaders wandered out of the park and fell victim to trapping, raising the hackles of wildlife organizations, conservationists, residents who love wildlife, and the tourism industry.
And now, thanks to the challenged decision-making of our new governor (who is much like the old governor on this issue) the tourism boycott has begun. Thanks a lot, Governor Parnell. I’m sure business owners across the state are really excited about this, especially since the economy has already reduced tourism by double digits last summer.
The buffer zone helps to keep these Denali wolves alive, because, frankly, wolves don’t really know where the park boundary ends, and where they need to be to stay safe. These packs, which have been studied since the 1930s, have a natural range and it doesn’t exactly conform to the boundary of the park. And now the northeast periphery, which was formerly a protected area, is open for trapping thanks to this vote by the Board of Game.
The decision swings in the opposite direction of what park authorities had asked for. The federal authorities had recommended expanding the buffer zone to protect the wolves that wander outside the park’s boundaries. Those particular wolves are the ones typically seen by busloads of tourists who visit the park every summer.
The wolf population is the lowest it has been since 1987, park authorities say. While they don’t know for sure why the numbers have plummeted, they say there has been trapping pressure on the animals.
There are about 70 wolves left in the 6-million-acre park.
Let’s look at this 4-3 vote. Sometimes the best way to understand a vote, is to understand the votER. So, let’s hunker down and learn about the latest appointment to this board, one of those on the “4″ side that voted to remove the buffer zone and increase the trapping of wolves. Governor Sean Parnell recently appointed a man named Al Barette of Fairbanks to the Board. Mr. Barette has an interesting history.
Mr. Barette retired from the military in 1993 because of an injury, and now lives in Fairbanks with his wife and three children. He’s also a business owner. But his kind of business is not the kind of business that will feel the pinch when environmental and wildlife groups start to boycott travel to Alaska because of this decision. He owns the kind of business that thinks this decision is just swell.
He owns the Fairbanks Fur Tannery – the first commercial tannery in Alaska. He started it in 1993 and business is good, but of course it will be better soon. Here’s a picture of Mr. Barette on the job.
Then, in 2002 he purchased another business – The Alaskan No. 9 Trap Company. And, believe it or not, they manufacture The Alaska Wolf Trap. Business prospects are looking good for that one too.
One of his favorite things to do is to teach young, inexperienced trappers how to do it better, and is often seen discussing equipment and tactics “over the counter” at the Alaska Fur Tannery.
And he is so dedicated to wolf elimination, he was even the recipient of the very first permit to shoot one from an airplane, after then Lt. Parnell’s poorly worded ballot initiative permitting the practice passed. Thousands of Alaskans, myself included, voted the wrong way on that initiative because it was worded so poorly. A cynic might say that the obfuscation was deliberate. Voters had voted against the aerial hunt twice before but this time it passed.
But surely, there are two sides to every story. Granted that tourists will suffer, and the wolves of course, and wildlife photographers, and those in the tourism industry, and small business owners who will feel the pinch of tourism boycotts… But someone has to benefit from this other than just Board of Game member Al Barette who will be able to sell more traps, and tan more hides.
Alaska wildlife advocate Rick Steiner called the Denali decision a slap in the face to the park service and to its visitors who come to the park to see, among other animals, a wolf.
“It’s an outrageous decision,” he said. “The Board of Game placed the interests of three or four trappers on the eastern edge of Denali over the interests of hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park, and countless public comments from Alaskans asking not only to maintain the existing buffer but to expand it.”
He said the economic impact of the tourists that the wolves draw to the state make wolves “worth orders of magnitude more alive than dead.”
The interest of three or four trappers AND the interest of the man who cast the deciding vote to eradicate the buffer zone. Conflict of interest? Sounds like it to me.
Once again Alaskans are caught up in the epic battle of the hunters. On the one hand are the wolves who bring tourists to the park and are worth their weight in public relations gold. They have to eat, and they have the misfortune of liking to eat the same things we do. On the other hand are those for whom the Alaska wilness of their dreams is nothing more than a big game farm with us the only predator. It’s good for people who like to eat wild game, yes. But the big money comes from those who pay good money to come to Alaska, kill something, and leave. And while they’re at it, they may as well stack boards with those who can make a pretty penny off trapping. It’s a win-win situation for them, and a lose-lose situation for the wolves and those who derive joy and economic benefit from keeping them alive.
It’s time to elect a new governor. Before you cast your vote in November, find out what your candidate thinks about the current mission of the Board of Game, and find out if they are appalled by the current conflict of interest that exists on the Board.
While waiting to cast your vote, feel free to let the governor know how you feel about this. And remember, the wolves of Denali National Park belong to ALL of us, wherever in the country we live. So, even if you’re not in the state, you have a stake in this.
Governor Sean Parnell – http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell/contact/email-the-governor.html
CALL 907-465-3500 FAX: 907-465-3532