Denali wolf numbers and viewing remain at historic low level

The National Park Service this week released its fall 2015 update on the status of Denali National Park’s troubled wolf population, showing the population and viewing success remains at historic low levels and prompting censure from environmental groups.

The wolf population across the six million acre park and preserve has declined from 143 wolves in Fall 2007 to only 57 in fall 2015 – a drop of almost two-thirds in just eight years, according to an analysis and press release from Oasis Earth. Those are some of the lowest counts in the park’s historical record.  As well, visitor viewing success has remained at a historic low level, estimating that only five percent of the park’s 530,000 visitors in 2015 saw wolves, down from 45 percent in 2010.

The park service says on its website that, “wolf densities for the past three years have been the lowest in Denali since 1987,” but “no obvious explanation for this current low density is apparent.”

Environmental groups say they see a reason: The Board of Game removed the no-kill buffer along the boundary of the park in 2010, and has since declined several emergency petitions from Alaskans to close state lands along the boundary, the release says.

There was a similar debate and censure from environmental groups in the spring, when the park released the lowest wolf density estimate since 1986.

The fall 2015 survey reported a slight increase (three wolves) above the fall 2014 number, but visitor viewing success declined from six percent in 2014 to five percent in 2015.   

Denali National Park has also declined several citizen requests to close wolf killing on its lands inside the park and preserve as well, the release says.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the wolf numbers in Denali ranged from 140 to 169 wolves. 

The NPS mandate for Denali is to “preserve unaltered ecosystems in their natural state.” Alaska’s “constitutional requirement that all resources are to be managed ‘for the maximum benefit of the people’ is clearly violated by allowing Denali wolves to be killed by 1 or 2 sport trappers/hunters, over the enormous value to thousands of Alaskans who derive value from viewing wolves in the park,” the release says.

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