The state Board of Game erred last week when it voted to remove protection for Denali National Park wolves on state land bordering the park. The 4-3 decision makes some of the most viewed and studied wolves on earth vulnerable to trapping in a swath of land known as the "wolf townships." The board's decision isn't an invitation to slaughter. Wolves are hard to trap and kill. More open territory won't have any significant effect on Alaska's wolf population, which is healthy and likely to remain so.
But the decision may well disrupt Denali's packs and reduce the numbers of easily seen wolves that thrive in the protection of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Some board members expressed some tit-for-tat politics at play; they said they might be more sympathetic to the desires of National Park Service officials and wolf advocates if they got a little more cooperation on matters like predator control. That's not the high road, not the way to temper the passions ignited by wolves.
The park service and conservationists wanted to expand the buffer zones, arguing that hundreds of thousands of visitors to Denali and the views of hundreds of Alaskans living in the area outweighed the desires of a few trappers.
The board would have been wise to keep the buffers in place without any expansion. That would have accomplished three goals:
• Continued protection -- but not guaranteed protection -- for the wolves of Denali when they range outside the park. That would show the board sees them as more than game.
• Proof that the board could recognize the value of protecting the packs for the thousands of people who come thousands of miles to see them -- and proof that Alaskans know the value of setting aside some areas where hunting and trapping is barred, for the animals' sake.
"A boundary is a boundary," board member Lewis Bradley said. Yes, but the wolves don't know that. Give them some state latitude. Some chafe at the notion of the state deferring to the feds and environmentalists on state land. This isn't about acquiescence. It's about good management and a spirit of cooperation that serves both wolves and the people who love to see them.
• An example of the truth that conservation and consumption are not mutually exclusive terms. Some will argue that no wolf should be touched; others want wide-open seasons to eliminate a competing predator. Good management falls to neither extreme. Good management respects both the purpose and spirit of Denali and the taking of Alaska game by hunters and trappers.
The buffer makes sense. The board should reconsider.
WOLF ATTACK IN CHIGNIK LAKE
Wolves have taken dogs and other pets and livestock in Alaska. Wolves have stalked and taken dogs in Eagle River and on Fort Richardson. But the killing of teacher Candice Berner, 32, by two or three wolves outside Chignik Lake came as a shock.
First, our condolences to Candice Berner's family and friends. By all accounts she was a woman enjoying her time in Alaska.
Second, the two or three wolves who attacked Berner should be destroyed. Village residents have been hunting them, and hope to lure them with bait. Alaska State Troopers are on the scene, along with Fish and Game officials. Since the attack, villagers aren't traveling alone and are not letting their kids walk to school until the wolves are killed.
It's good troopers and Fish and Game are there; they need to track or bait these wolves and kill them; by the time this editorial is published, they may already have done so. This isn't a matter of revenge or retribution. This is a matter of public safety. These wolves are a lethal danger to people. Shoot straight.
BOTTOM LINE: Wise course is to keep buffer for Denali's wolves. Wise course is to make short work of wolves who killed woman in Chignik Lake.