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Decrease in Denali wolves affects tourism dollars

Posted: October 10, 2012 - 12:02am

As Denali wolf sightings drop so do Alaska tourism dollars.

Visitors to Denali National Park are less likely this year to see a wolf than even a year ago. The loss of the two remaining breeding females in the human-habituated Grant Creek Pack precipitated the breakup of the most-viewed pack of wolves remaining in the park.

Part of this education is taking members “into places where wild wolves exist and thrive,” said Diane Bentivegna, director of education and resources, National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

Bentivegna said her group has taken groups of 60 to Yellowstone on wolf-viewing trips. She said interest in Alaska wolf viewing had her organization planning a 20-member tour group to Denali. The group, she said, was expected to spend around $160,000 while in Alaska.

“There was a great amount of interest within our membership,” Bentivegna said. “We are eager to get our people up there.”

Wolf Watch canceled preparations for its Denali trip as it learned of a drop in sightings of the approximately 70 wolves in the park. The rate of sightings of the Grant Creek pack have drop from 45 percent to 14 percent. She learned that the last breeding Grant Creek female was trapped just outside the park on state land in what once was a wolf hunting and trapping buffer zone.

“The odds of us seeing wolves on the land in Denali [is] very iffy, at best,” Bentivegna said.

“This raised a great deal of concern for people who will pay $8500 to $9000 [per trip],” Bentivegna said. “We want to do this but we want to be reasonably assured that we’ll see some wolves.”

The Alaska Wildlife Alliance sent an emergency petition the Alaska Board of Game in September to reinstate a buffer zone on state land down the eastern edge of the park and preserve. The board had recently voted to eliminate the buffer until at least 2016. The board rejected the petition based on the board finding that the situation did not merit an emergency conservation action.

Tina Brown president of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance said the board of game erred in its interpretation of emergency regulation rules along with other grievances. Brown and eight other groups and individuals filed a petition on September 19 to reconsider the board’s original finding.

The Board of Game did not comment in time for the story. Board members need more time to get up to speed with the new petition, Kristy Tibbles executive director of the Board of Game said in a phone message.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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