My Turn: Wolves provide balance to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

Living on North Douglas, knowing there were wolves just in my backyard, thrilled me. Yeah, this is Alaska. It doesn't get any better. Recently, I found out our "neighbors" had been unmercifully slaughtered, none spared, and for what reason? Don't some of them deserve to live? No longer can I relax on my deck, imagining a wolf howling through that forest between us.

I felt sick and saddened, mad and disgusted. I'm disgusted for this irrevocable unnecessary loss. Disgusted for the ruthless, unchecked, greedy killing of an entire pack of wolves. I'm disgusted for the inadequate, outdated regulations on trapping wolves and the lack of foresight on the part of the Department of Fish and Game to recognize the uniqueness of this group of animals, so close to home, and their vulnerability. This, after having several visual accounts reported, documented photographs and people expressing concerns for the wolves' safety.

For those who have had the rare privilege of hearing wolves howl, or better, fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of these amazing animals, I don't have to tell you how it can inspire that sense of awe deep within. I had such an experience. Working for a tour company, we were lucky to spot wolves on Douglas Island. Closely watching for 30 minutes, we saw three to five wolves at once on the beach, disappearing as another appeared elsewhere. They were all black, six to seven total, except one grayish one that was limping hard.

Shooting a roll of film, I visited Fish and Game in Douglas, showing them pictures in September 2001. They heard accounts of wolves recently, but this was the first documented sighting. I expressed concern about the injured wolf and any relation to trapping. They assured me little trapping was done on the island, usually for small animals, and not likely far down near Hilda Point. They also said injuries can happen. I felt reassured.

With the tours, we saw deer regularly on the Douglas shoreline, eagles daily, whales regularly and wolves once. I never saw a more awed response from people as when we saw those wolves. They were ecstatic, saying they were "the highlight of their trip to Alaska!"

People visiting Southeast Alaska want to see bears, whales and wolves. Wolves are the ultimate for wildlife viewers. Sightings, being extremely rare, only magnify the experience and uniqueness of these animals. I must have been the most excited of all, living on Douglas as I do. And now, to think the wolves have been completely annihilated is an outrage.

What about us who want wolves in our forest, or want that rare chance to glimpse one? Do we have rights? Wolves apparently don't. They don't have voices to speak either, but we do. And we have the right, as trappers have been entitled to trapping privileges, to the privilege of enjoying these amazing animals in our own way as well, in a sustainable way, alive in our forests.

Wolves are a recognized integral part to the balance of our healthy ecosystem within their unique niche. There is no balance in exterminating an entire group of animals. Nowhere do we wipe an animal completely off the land. That's like fishing all the salmon out of one stream or hunting all the game off an island. We know better.

We need sustainable regulations imposed for wolf trapping, as there are for hunting and fishing, to maintain healthy populations. An isolated case of wolves near Juneau on an island was an easy target. I wish Fish and Game had realized the uniqueness of these animals in this context and regulated trapping accordingly.

It's obvious there needs to be changes in regulations, tighter restrictions, rigid guidelines. Trappers have been given the right to trap. Non-trappers should also have our rights acknowledged and protected by being entitled to the right and assurance that the wolves we respect will never again be extinguished from any given pack in any given range. Douglas was the perfect classroom example. It couldn't have been clearer or easier to identify. There's got to be a balance.

In an environment rich and abundant as ours, it seems we could co-exist comfortably with a handful of wolves. Maybe it's time to sharpen our sense of wonder, appreciate what we have, what makes up this environment we live in.

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