ANCHORAGE - A buffer to protect a wolf pack that occasionally strays outside Denali National Park and Preserve is working well, but another pack is under pressure from hunters and trappers, the Alaska Board of Game was told Thursday.
The board is considering whether to continue the buffer in state land adjacent to the northeast corner of the park 240 miles north of Anchorage. Ninety-three wolves live in the 6-million-acre park.
Wolf hunting and trapping now is prohibited in the 72-square-mile buffer, but that protection is scheduled to end March 31.
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance also wants the board to create a new zone, essentially tripling the size of the buffer, to protect wolves in the Mount Margaret pack that venture outside the park just south of the existing buffer.
The wildlife group says the buffers will increase wildlife viewing opportunities. But opponents say they will further restrict hunting and trapping opportunities.
Layne Adams, a wildlife research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said a 16-year study of radio-collared park wolves shows that hunting has played a minor role in wolf mortality. About 60 percent of park wolves that died during the study period were killed by other wolves and 30 percent died from natural causes, he said.
The best-known group, the Toklat wolves, rarely ventures outside of the park or the buffer zone, Adams said. But the Mount Margaret wolves stray more often.
The two wolf packs consist of 14 members - four in the Toklat pack and 10 in the Mount Margaret group.
Between 1997 and 2001, an average 1.4 wolves were taken in what is now the Toklat wolf buffer zone.