Far More Hunting Inside Denali Than on Its Boundary
Impact of Larger Toll on Sustainable Park Wildlife Populations Poorly Understood
Washington, DC — Each year, hunters and trappers cut deeply into the populations of large mammals inside Denali National Park and Preserve, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Surprisingly, the toll on both predators and game animals inside the park is several times what occurs on its boundary.
The ADFG figures of annual harvest for the 3-year period between 2013-2015 shows take levels inside Denali averaging well above 300 bears, moose, and caribou, as well as Dall sheep, otters and wolverines per year. This toll is more than five times the annual harvest immediately outside park borders.
For wolves, the yearly toll is so large that it is having a big impact on the viability of wolf packs inside Denali, which is Alaska’s top tourist attraction drawing more than a half-million visitors annually from all over the world. The iconic Denali wolf population has plummeted to its lowest level on record, yet the annual take of wolves in and around Denali averages a dozen – around one quarter of the estimated total population inside the park – every year for the past three years. As a result, visitor viewing success has plummeted.
“Denali is today more of a secretive hunting reserve than a protected natural area,” commented Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member, who obtained the numbers from ADFG, noting that as many as 4 million of Denali National Park and Preserve’s 6 million total acres are open to hunting and trapping. “This intensity of human predation, both outside and more unexpectedly inside Denali, has seriously degraded the natural integrity of one of our nation’s most important national parks. As a result, visitors to Denali will not experience the natural ecosystem they came to see.”
The ADFG estimates average annual harvest for other mammals in and adjacent to Denali total –
- 43.3 grizzlies;
- 25.0 black bears;
- 178.0 moose;
- 27.3 lynx;
- 31.3 Dall sheep; and
- 17.3 wolverines.
At the same time, Denali park officials possess an uncertain and, in some cases, dated, grasp of how many of which animals reside in the park. Moreover, the park does not systematically monitor annual hunting and trapping, which is licensed by the state. Yet, from the loose figures on the park website, the annual take of grizzly and moose equals almost 10% of the entire estimated Denali population. In the past year, both the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have issued rules to further restrict hunting and trapping of wolves and bears in Alaska’s national parks and refuges, while Alaska’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation to reverse these new federal rules.
“Lack of federal-state cooperation has reduced wildlife management in Alaska to crisis mode,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If these wildlife populations crash, they may never rebound.”