My Turn: Wolf packs bring tourism dollars to Alaska

National Wolfwatcher Coalition is a nonprofit organization that promotes wolf education and conservation, and it is currently supported by more than 250,000 members. We promote educational tourism opportunities throughout the USA and Canada, which enable participants to observe and learn about wolves in their natural habitat. Encouraged by growing interest, we contacted several eco-tourism operators in Alaska to arrange for trips to Denali National Park for the sole purpose of planning educational wolf watching adventures. Despite difficult economic times, we remain eager to support Alaska’s tourism industry both in the near future and in years to come.

Unfortunately, the national reputation of the State of Alaska in terms of its commitment to wildlife tourism was damaged last month when the Alaska Board of Game rejected a petition urging the Board to enact a wolf buffer (no-trapping/no-hunting) zone on a small parcel of state land along the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. Although the most recent wolf survey results estimate a total population of only 70 animals in the park — one of the lowest counts in the past 20 years — this buffer zone would protect the twenty to thirty animals that comprise the three most viewed wolf packs in Denali National Park. One of the most viewed packs in the park – the Grant Creek pack — was seriously impacted from a trapping loss this past April. The pack failed to reproduce and dispersed. The success of viewing wolves in Denali has declined dramatically since the buffer was removed in 2010.

A journey to Alaska requires a substantial financial investment on the part of visitors. It would be unethical for us to ask our supporters to spend approximately $8500 for this trip when, in all probability, they may not see the very wildlife they expected to see on a “wolf-watching” adventure. If, however, the proposed buffer zone were enacted, we believe we could reasonably assure our supporters that all was being done to encourage a successful experience.

Thus, we hope that the Alaska Board of Game and/or the Commissioner of Fish and Game reconsiders issuing an Emergency Order to re-establish the Denali wolf buffer zone. Not only will our organization be able to fulfill its educational mission, but the resulting positive economic impact will benefit Alaska’s citizens and its tourism industry.

• Bentivegna is director of education and resources for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition based in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

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