Denali wolves – the Grant Creek wolf pack

I’ll be in Denali National park in a few days on a photography permit and it was disheartening to learn of the recent trapping death of the alpha female from the Grant Creek wolf pack. She was snared by a trapper just outside the park boundary.  I, like many photographers and visitors to Denali have photographed these animals for years, as they have denned near the park road and have been a common sight. The Grant Creek wolf pack is possibly the most visible and highly viewed wild wolf pack in the world.

Why was the wolf snared? Ask the Alaska Board of Game – it has to do, at least in part, with the absence of a buffer zone along the park boundary. Here is a quote from an article in the Anchorage Daily News

“The state-owned areas just outside Denali — and in this case, an area known as Stampede Trail that extends as a finger inside the park — have long been subject to controversy over hunting and trapping because of their proximity to the park, where animals are protected.

Conservationists succeeded in persuading the Alaska Board of Game to establish a no-hunting buffer zone in the region in 2002.

The National Park Service, which had initially been neutral on the issue, decided that wolves at Denali were in enough danger that the agency in 2010 joined conservationists in seeking to extend and even expand the buffer zone. Instead, the Board of Game eliminated the buffer zone, leaving hunters and trappers to operate on state lands up to the boundaries of the park — boundaries that are fairly arbitrary for wildlife moving in and out of the park.

The wolf population in the 6-million-acre park is at a 20-year low — just 70 wolves in nine packs — down from 103 wolves in 15 packs as recently as 2006, Meier said.”

On so many levels, it just makes sense to preserve a resource that is enjoyed by so many people. Wildlife does not know or follow geo-political lines and boundaries. A buffer zone seems reasonable.

Wolves, as a top predator, are a controversial subject in Alaska since they compete with sport hunters and food hunters for animals like moose.

Two years ago, on June 3, 2010, I was photographing in Denali Park with a colleague and we encountered the Grant Creek wolf pack in a rare but classic predator scene involving a cow moose and her calf. The alpha male and female from that pack were involved in this attack, and are pictured in the photos. That post and related photos became my most popular blog entry, and the comments reveal a wide range of attitudes and opinions on even the most basic function of a wild animal: eating to survive. You can read those comments on the original post, but if you just want to see some photos from this scene I repeated them below due to their popularity.