Alaska and the Yukon: The silence of the wolves

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1994:

FAIRBANKS, Alaska, and WHITEHORSE, the Yukon––At least 63 of the
wolves the world sought to save in Alaskan wildlife management unit 20-A, south of
Fairbanks, have been killed by airborne state trappers––and that may be almost all the
wolves who lived there, a fraction of the number state officials claim have ravaged moose
and caribou to the extent that sport hunting in the area has been suspended since 1991.
A comparable massacre has resumed in the Yukon Territory, Canada, where
officials last winter killed only 61 of a quota of 150 wolves in the beginning of a five-year
push to cut the estimated wolf population of the Kluane-Aishihik region near the Kluane
National Park and World Heritage Site by 85%. As in Alaska, the Yukon killing is pur-
portedly part of a “caribou enhancement” program, and also as in Alaska, independent
experts believe the official quota is several times higher than the actual wolf population of
the sector. The Kluane-Aishihik caribou herd has crashed and other Yukon herds have lev-

eled off or declined since the major highway
serving the area was opened to winter travel
for the first time in 1988. Native hunters are
allowed to kill caribou independent of quotas
and reporting requirements.
Both wolf massacres are underway
in virtual silence from the animal protection
community, which raised such a hue and cry
a year ago that the Alaskan government
retreated from wolf-killing until press and
public virtually forgot the issue. More than
two months after convicted poacher Daniel
Grangaard led the Alaskan wolf death squad
into the bush, only three national groups
have been visibly active in opposition.
Friends of Animals is still funding close sur-
veillance of killing by world-renowned wolf
expert Gordon Haber, publicizing his obser-
vations with almost daily media advisories.
In Defense of Animals chipped in to send a
representative to view the wolf autopsies,
after FoA president Priscilla Feral flew to
Alaska in person to secure public access to
the carcasses under freedom of information
statutes. And the Humane Society of the
U.S. quietly ratified the tourism boycott of
Alaska that FoA had reimposed last summer,
when the Alaska Board of Game reneged on
a public statement that no wolves would be
killed in 1993.
The Fund for Animals, which pre-
tended to lead protest a year ago after becom-
ing the last national group to join the tourism
boycott that brought the broken promise,
apparently did nothing––in the wake of a
spring direct mail campaign in which it
claimed a victory on the issue, and a summer
pledge by national director Wayne Pacelle to
orchestrate international protest if the wolf-
killing went ahead. Instead, the Fund
launched a major membership drive, polling
recipients of membership appeals as to
whether they thought the wolf massacre
should even be a priority.
The Sierra Club magazine S i e r r a,
and the World Wildlife Fund magazine Focus
editorially touted Alaskan tourism in their
September/October issues. No apologies or
turnabouts were forthcoming. The World
Wildlife Fund Canada has joined smaller
Canadian groups and FoA in opposing the
Yukon wolf killing, but the U.S. and interna-
tional WWF arms haven’t provided evident
Wolves blamed for horse abuse
If the silence of animal protection
groups on Alaska was surprising, the silence
on the Yukon was almost as much so, espe-
cially after fisheries technician Richard
Mahoney charged in the December 22 Seattle
T i m e s that the slaughter there is not only
pushed by native groups and hunting outfitters
who don’t want to be held responsible for their
own depredations, but is also in effect a
cover-up for horse abuse.
Mahoney explained that Yukon out-
fitters commonly release their horses each
winter, at the end of hunting season. “After
months of hard use,” he wrote, “they are
turned loose to fend for themselves on the very
spare Yukon range, which has snow cover
from October to May and winter temperatures
to 50 degrees below zero, and is 1,000 miles
from the nearest hay field. Wolves prey on
these winter-starved beasts. Attrition rates can
be high, especially on replacement stock
brought up from more southerly pastures and
not adapted to the extreme conditions.”
Canadian naturalist R.D. Lawrence
and the Canadian Coalition for the Ethical
Treatment of Food Animals have protested the
horse abandonments for years. The only high-
profile prosecution of an outfitter who repeat-
edly left his horses to starve, begun in 1989,
was dropped a year later after repeated delays;
the defense counsel was also the agent for the
trial scheduling office, according to CCETFA
director Tina Harrison.
Tourism chief fired
Despite the heavy free promotion of
Alaska, ecotourism agencies reported that
their Alaskan traffic was down 90% in the
wake of FoA boycott appeals issued in various
publications during November––even as FoA
fought a lawsuit filed by the state in response
to previous boycott appeals.
The lawsuit and boycott appeared to
be responsible for Alaska governor Walter
Hickel’s reported mid-December surprise fir-
ing of state Division of Tourism director
Connel Murray. Opposing the boycott as a
matter of professional obligation, Murray
reputedly opposed the wolf killing too. He
was dismissed after testifying in preliminary
hearings in Alaska v. Friends of Animals that
his department could not prove any damages
due to the boycott appeals over which FoA
was sued, since most groups who were part of
the boycott last year had lifted it as soon as
Alaska said wolves would not be killed.
Murray also said his research indicated an all-
out boycott would cause only about a 6%
decline in tourism. While Hickel might have
welcomed word that a boycott would be only
marginally effective, he apparently didn’t
welcome it in a lawsuit in which Alaska must
prove damages.
The wolf kill quota for unit 20-A
this winter was 150, half the official popula-
tion of the area. However, after killing the
first several dozen at a rapid pace, the death
squad took more than a week to get from 50 to
54, and then two weeks to reach 63, suggest-
ing that wolves may already have been almost
extirpated from the area, just as Haber pre-
dicted. Exactly how they were extirpated was
unclear, however, from the partial carcasses
Haber was finally allowed to examine along
with state experts and media––who were
barred from taking pictures––on December 22,
three weeks after the state agreed to the
inspections rather than try to maintain secrecy
in another court fight. All of the wolves had
already been skinned, and the skulls and feet
of many of them were missing, which meant
there was no evidence available to Haber as to
the pack affiliations of the victims, which
could be determined from color patterns, and
precious little evidence as to whether some
were choked in neck-snares, or were found
alive and shot, or were caught in leghold
traps, contrary to the state policy of using only
Trapper Mike Coombs alleged as
the autopsies progressed that some wolves
were shot from aircraft, in violation of the
1974 federal Airborne Hunting Act, and that
their carcasses were being dumped in the bush
rather than being brought to Fairbanks for
necropsy. Coombs drove to the autopsy site
with a dead wolf in the back of his truck. Her
wounds indicated she was shot from above.
Coombs found her near his trapline, where she
was apparently dropped by an aircraft: there
were no tracks leading to her remains,
Coombs told media, and no signs of death-
throes. An Alaska state trooper confiscated the
dead wolf before Coombs could deliver her to
a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer with
authority to enforce the Airborne Hunting Act.
The missing skulls were removed for
donation to the University of Alaska, to be
added to a permanent collection. As the uni-
versity prefers intact skulls, the state trappers
are killing wolves found alive in snares with
shots to the heart and lungs, causing a slower,
more painful death than a head shot. In addi-
tion, Haber said, wire and cable snares had
cut some writhing wolves down to the trachea.
Murray wasn’t the only top Alaskan
official to lose his job in December, as former
Fish and Wildlife Protection Division director
Phil Gilson resigned effective January 1 after
being charged with illegally shooting a cari-
bou. Earlier, his office denied that caribou
poaching was any problem in Alaska, despite
evidence that trophy poachers rather than
wolves were perhaps responsible for the
decline of caribou in 20-A. State biologists
found in May 1993 that only 30% of the cari-
bou cows in the region were pregnant, down
from 85% to 95% during the years when the
herd was growing. Since wolves don’t pro-
vide the stud service, the blame had to lie
either with lack of fodder to support a large
reproducing population, which Haber believes
is the case, or a shortage of bucks.
As Gilson left, the Alaska Depart-
ment of Fish and Game and USFWS were try-
ing to figure out what to do about a caribou
surplus on Adak Island, in the Aleutians,
where the animals were introduced in 1958-
1959 to provide sport hunting for Navy person-
nel. There are now 600-800 caribou there––
and the Navy is cutting the base staff by 80%.
In an unrelated action, the
Biodiversity Legal Foundation on December
13 asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to
list the Alexander Archipelago wolf, a sub-
species found mainly in the Tongass National
Forest of Alaska, as a threatened species.
Trappers killed 52% of the wolves’ population
in 1992-1993, while clear-cutting in the
national forest jeopardizes their habitat.
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