ANCHORAGE - A trapper killed the last known surviving wolf of the Sanctuary wolf pack that roamed Denali National Park.
The incident has fanned an old dispute over whether the park needs a larger no-hunting and no-trapping buffer to protect wolves.
The wolf, a 22-month-old female and a member of the Sanctuary pack, was orphaned a year ago in March after researchers accidentally killed its mother. The mother was one of three wolves that died after being tranquilized during a wolf study by the National Park Service.
Gordon Haber, a wolf researcher whose work is funded by Friends of Animals, tracked the wolf since its mother was killed. Haber said Monday that its death proves the need for a larger buffer zone around the park.
"It's getting to be very predictable" for members of this pack to be killed by trappers, Haber said. "And she had been doing very well because of a combination of luck, skill and grit."
The Alaska Board of Game last year established a 90-square-mile no-hunting, no-trapping area northeast of the park. Animal protection groups pushed for a larger buffer at the Board of Game meeting in March, but the proposal was tabled.
The National Park Service confirmed Monday that Martin Weiner, a part-time park maintenance employee, killed the wolf. But he did not break any rules in doing so, said agency spokesman John Quinley.
"The wolf was taken legally outside the park under state trapping rules, and it's not an issue for us," Quinley said. "We have no control over what people do in their off hours."
Weiner did not return a phone call Monday evening.
According to Haber, Weiner trapped the wolf about three weeks ago just outside Denali National Park. Biologists knew it was from the Sanctuary pack because it wore a radio collar that was later returned to the park.
Over the past year, Haber said he watched the wolf roam alone mostly just outside the park's eastern boundary. It had little success at hunting but learned to scavenge moose and caribou carcasses, he said.
Haber argues the Sanctuary pack could have become popular for viewing by tourists had the buffer been established. Now the pack is gone, he said.
Haber blames trapping. National Park Service biologists argue that packs disperse and die off naturally, even when trapping is banned. Park officials have argued that a buffer is not needed to protect the park's wolf population, estimated to be 100.
Quinley said more park wolves have been killed by other wolves than by trappers.