FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Board of Game meets Thursday and Friday to decide whether wolves that stray out of Denali National Park and Preserve onto state land should continue to be protected.
The Game Board more than two years ago created a protective buffer zone for wolves that wander out of the park, where hunting and trapping is not allowed. The buffer prohibits wolf hunting and trapping on 72 square miles of state land bordering the northeast corner of the park.
The buffer is due to end March 31. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is asking the Game Board to keep the buffer.
"We think it's a very reasonable approach to the management of a highly viewable wildlife species," said Rob Bosworth, deputy commissioner for the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance proposes tripling the size of the buffer. The proposal would add 235 square miles to protect the Toklat and Mount Margaret wolf packs, seen by thousands of tourists each summer along the Denali Park Road.
The Game Board will consider the requests in a special meeting in Anchorage, the first since Gov. Tony Knowles appointed five new members to the seven-member panel.
Knowles made the appointments in July after the Legislature rejected his previous five nominees.
The current buffer zone, which parallels both sides of the Stampede Road Trail near Healy, does not cover the entire ranges of the two wolf packs, said Paul Joslin, conservation biologist for the wildlife alliance.
"This is a viewable wildlife issue," Joslin said. "The difference between the few hundred dollars the hides of these wolves represent to a few trappers is nothing compared to the value they have for the thousands of people who see them."
The Middle Nenana River Fish and Game Advisory Committee in Healy, one of about 80 local committees that advise the Game Board, opposes any kind of buffer zone.
"They expanded Denali Park and now they're going to add a buffer zone," committee chairman Mike Pearson said, referring to the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that expanded the original park from 2 million to 6 million acres. "The next thing you know there will be another buffer zone and another buffer zone."