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Denali Buffer Zone and BOG have a far reaching effect

Posted: January 8, 2013 - 1:05am

Several points and their consequences, some of which are listed below, should have been considered when the decision was being made to remove the Denali National Park wolf buffer zone; with the moratorium on buffer zone proposals in place, these things cannot now be formally considered at all.

1) The rights of a very few, perhaps no more than two, who trap in the former buffer zone area;

2) The critical location of the most viewed wolf pack in the park. Since wildlife does not recognize borders between protected and non-protected areas, there was a significant risk — with little, if any, upside — involved in eliminating the buffer zone;

3) The rights and well-being of the hundreds of other Alaskans who depend upon Denali National Park tourism, including wolf viewing and photography, for their livelihoods.

Here are just some of the results of the current implementation of the Board of Game’s strategy in eliminating the Denali National Park wolf buffer zone:

1) One trapper was able to legally trap the last remaining breeding female of the Grant Creek wolf pack, which was at that time the most viewable pack in the park. The trapper, in total disregard for the animal, left the wolf in the trap where it painfully struggled for about a week. Finally, a wolverine attacked the wolf, making the hide worthless.

2) The death of this wolf resulted in the disbursement of the pack. The chance of seeing wolves in Denali National Park declined to 14 percent — a 63 percent decline since 2007.

3) As a result, individuals as well as organizations such as Wolf Watcher, a group that had been planning to come to Denali National Park in large numbers in 2013 to see wolves, have already decided not to come because the chances of seeing wolves are now so low. Instead, they will go elsewhere, where their tourism dollars will result in better wolf viewing opportunities. This series of events has already resulted in a drop in Alaska’s wildlife tourism income of approximately $2,125,000. That number can actually be measured right now, and I am sure that the actual number is and will be a lot higher since we do not know everyone who changed their plans to come to Alaska because of this wolf viewing issue.

This loss affects not only the park area, but many other areas of the state. For example, about 35 percent of the out-of-state visitors to Denali National Park also visit Southeast Alaska as a part of their Alaskan vacation. I own a very small one-person company that primarily does whale watching in the Juneau area; already, I have lost over $2,000 in cancellations as a direct result of the elimination of the Denali wolf buffer zone. Losses such as these have irreversibly damaged Alaska’s 2013 tourism season before it has even begun.

The reinstatement of the buffer zone may help us get some of those lost tourism dollars back, while simultaneously bringing in additional, much needed sales tax revenue for many towns in 2014 and onward. If, however, the moratorium on accepting proposals on the Denali National Park buffer zone continues, the Board of Game, while blocking the established process for public input, will continue to block itself from hearing relevant new information, such as this, with which to make intelligent decisions on wildlife management policies.

Although I do not agree with the BOG’s decision to eliminate the buffer zone I understand that the BOG wanted to show that they could protect one or two people’s “rights” which resulted in the torturing of an animal by leaving it in the trap for a week, while ignoring the best interests of hundreds of Alaskans who service the wildlife industry. While I do blame the BOG for this decision, most of the blame goes to the governor, who keeps appointing BOG members who only represent a minority of Alaskans. I would like to remind the governor that, per the Alaskan Constitution, the BOG is supposed to represent all Alaskans, and not just a special interest lobby group.

• Brown is a Juneau resident and owner of a small whale watching business.

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