Boycott stings tour outfits

Some businesses feel the pinch from wolf control program; others believe this boycott won't hit as hard as last one

Posted: Wednesday, February 04, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Some people in Alaska's tourism industry are beginning to feel the hurt from a tourism boycott launched by an animal rights group upset over the state's lethal wolf control program.

Mark Reiser, owner of the Wasilla-based company Outdoors Alaska, said a major client canceled its reservations last week and is instead going to Costa Rica. Another large group also changed plans, citing the state predator control program.

"This program and this national boycott are devastating my business," Reiser said. "I'm a very small business, so the $30,000 in gross revenue is fairly significant to me."

Under the state-sponsored program to reduce predators and increase the moose population, 30 wolves had been killed in the Glennallen area as of last weekend.

The Alaska Board of Game first approved a plan to eliminate about 40 wolves near McGrath, using shotguns from airplanes. To date, poor weather has prevented any kills.

A second program would remove roughly 140 wolves from the Nelchina basin, using a method known as land-and-shoot in which pilots are required to land before killing the wolves.

The Nelchina basin is an area of 25,000 square miles northeast of Anchorage. It is historically where residents of the Anchorage Bowl and Fairbanks hunted, and wolf-control efforts from before statehood allowed the moose and caribou populations to balloon.

The moose population has fallen by about half since the 1980s, in part because of rising wolf numbers, said Bob Tobey, who manages the region for the Department of Fish and Game in Glennallen.

"If we get some wolf control, we can stop this decline," he said, although it won't show immediate results. "We declined so long and so far, it's not going to come back anytime soon."

The Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals is promoting the tourism boycott, which is modeled after a similar successful boycott a decade ago.

Businesses like Reiser's have felt the pinch, but other operators believe the boycott may not have the teeth of the one a decade ago. Denali Lodges, which has three facilities near Denali National Park, hasn't received a single cancellation, said Eric Downey, vice president of marketing.

"We were very concerned, but those concerns did not materialize," he said.

The businesses that form the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association haven't reported a flood of cancellations, said executive director Anne Gore.

"We're beginning to feel a little bit more pressure" since the first wolves were killed, said Gore, estimating cancellations at fewer than 10. But the next few weeks will be telling for her association members, many of whom cater to the kinds of visitors most likely to oppose killing wolves, she said.

Members of the state's largest tourism industry group, the Alaska Travel Industry Association, also report fewer cancellations than they feared, but they too are watching closely, said Executive Director Ron Peck. Reservations will continue to roll in all spring and summer, he noted.

"We're not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot," he said.

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