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Backpacker Magazine – January 2009

Dogs of War

Another dead Denali wolf. A battle for the soul of wild Alaska. Our reporter visits America's most iconic wilderness for the inside story of a park under siege.

by: Tracy Ross

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
10-week-old Toklat pups (Gordon Haber)
10-week-old Toklat pups (Gordon Haber)
The shed at Wallace's compound. (J. Vandenoever)
The shed at Wallace's compound. (J. Vandenoever)
A wolf skull. (Julia Vandenoever)
A wolf skull. (Julia Vandenoever)
Wallace at his hunting camp. (J. Vandenoever)
Wallace at his hunting camp. (J. Vandenoever)
Gordon Haber (Photo by Julia Vandenoever)
Gordon Haber (Photo by Julia Vandenoever)
Wallace tows dead female wolf. (Gordon Haber)
Wallace tows dead female wolf. (Gordon Haber)
A drying rack. (Julia Vandenoever)
A drying rack. (Julia Vandenoever)
Wallace in front of wire snares. (J. Vandenoever)
Wallace in front of wire snares. (J. Vandenoever)
Denali wolf with snare. (Gordon Haber)
Denali wolf with snare. (Gordon Haber)
Barrette working in his tannery. (Vandenoever)
Barrette working in his tannery. (Vandenoever)

Last March, I went to see Interior Alaska's foremost trap-builder and fur tanner, Al Barrette, to talk about wolf management. Inside his converted air hangar on the outskirts of Fairbanks, I saw a dead wolf hanging from the ceiling with the snare that killed her still dangling around her neck.

"So you girls are going trapping with Coke?" asks Al, 43, who owns Fairbanks Fur Tannery. As an elected member of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, Al is also a passionate advocate of hunters' rights.

Standing amid bear, wolverine, and lynx carcasses, Al tells photographer Julia Vandenoever and me about trappers as he slices open the dead wolf's gut. On the floor, a dozen sticky wolf eyes stare out from a pile of recently severed heads.

Al says trappers are, by nature, individualistic, resourceful, and deeply connected to the land. Most consider themselves more effective conservationists than "preservationists" who write checks and fire off save-the-wolf emails. Denali wolves receive special consideration, he says, because they're cute and cuddly and you can't see them everywhere. But he believes all game should be managed for the greatest sustainable yield. "I don't want all the wolves gone," he says, "but I want them managed in sync with the other populations."

According to Game Commissioner Cliff Judkins, that's exactly what state biologists do. "They report on the populations of certain game, like moose," Judkins says. "They tell us what the calf weights are, what the cows' fat contents are, what the bull-cow ratio is. Based on their recommendations, we set the number of wolves we want to reduce, so the game can rebound. It's really well-documented. It's all in the plan."

The same thinking underlies Denali's wolf management philosophy. "[We're] mandated to maintain healthy populations," says Denali Assistant Superintendent Philip Hooge, himself a biologist. "Wolf advocates want an individual focus, but that's not the management scheme we work under. If harvest levels [in the buffer] began to threaten the park's wolf population, we'd take a much stronger stand, but for now, Denali's wolf population is acting in a natural way."

But not everybody agrees that the plan is based on sound science. "The National Research Council and the American Society of Mammologists have repeatedly made clear that Alaska's wolf and bear control programs do not meet scientific standards," says John Toppenberg of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "What you've got with the game board are seven out of seven extremist hunters who want to kill off wolves and bears to artificially inflate the numbers of ungulates they want to kill. And with the park service, you've got wolves that have been habituated to humans wandering into areas where trapping is legal. Those animals deserve protections since we have taught them to be tolerant of us."

As Al preps the dead wolf for skinning, I think about the alpha female in Coke's trap, how she suffered for two weeks; how her mate and nine pups hovered while Coke put a bullet into her lung. Afterward, the alpha male led the group 14 miles back to their den and dug it out from under two feet of snow. Gordon says they didn't go there looking for shelter; they returned because it's the place they most closely associated with their dead mate and mother.

Some people believe that Toklats wouldn't be dying if the park would just stand up and demand a complete buffer. But Al says there's no way the state would go for that. "The controversy isn't so much that people don't want to see that pack protected. But has anyone told you how big Denali is? Millions of acres. The government set that aside so the ecosystem could go in peaks and valleys [and] to protect these wolves. Well, come to find out, the wolves don't stay in the park. So the preservationists, thinking they have the oldest pack of wolves in Alaska, made a buffer zone."

But the buffer zone only allowed the wolf population to grow larger, says Al, which meant it needed an even greater range to satisfy its food needs. "So they asked for another buffer–a buffer to the buffer zone. And us Alaskans, we're out there trapping and enjoying ourselves. And guess what? [Even with the buffer] we're still catching wolves."

Now Al takes a break from talking. He breaks the wolf's right leg at the knee, then skins the foreleg and cuts off the paw. "Someone will use this as a decoration or for an Indian breast shield," explains Al. "Another lady incorporates the bones into jewelry–broaches, earrings, and necklaces–and sells them in high-end galleries in Seattle."

When Al is done skinning, he removes the wolf's glands–the footpads, anal gland, and gall bladder, all parts she once used to leave her scent. Then he slices off her head. Stripped to muscle, bone, and sinew, the carcass looks like a large, naked German shepherd.


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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READERS COMMENTS

Rob
Jun 18, 2012

I would never hurt a human, but anyone who hunts this way is not human at all.

Powerslave
Jun 13, 2012

I would not feel sorry if Coke Wallace were killed in one of his own traps. In fact, if it were a trap I placed that killed him, GREAT!!

Powerslave
Jun 13, 2012

I would not feel sorry if Coke Wallace were killed in one of his own traps. In fact, if it were a trap I placed that killed him, GREAT!!

.
Jun 13, 2012

Regarding Coke Wallace, somebody just shoot him.

Seriously. People kill people every day for far lesser reasons. Shoot him between the eyes to show your humanity, but just shoot him.

Its OK to kill him.

Oliver Starr
Jun 12, 2012

Rich, if you think snares are humane let me humbly suggest you snare yourself and report on just how you enjoyed the experience...

clarisselcourcier
Jan 28, 2012

if someone saw a wolf in a snare, why didn't you cut her loose or help her?

clarisselcourcier
Jan 28, 2012

wolves are gentle and intelligent animals,and I would join up to take up arms against the ones that kill for profit..........................

TS
Mar 01, 2011

Dear Jack.

You noted...

"I respect wolves and I have seen a pack of wolves play and I
have shot a wolf. Each time respecting their power and beauty.

You have an interesting way of showing respect. You were so filled with respect for its power and beauty - and you shot it.

Whatever your justification may be for ending its life, at least you can confirm it's NOT hanging on your wall as a "trophy" right?

Jack
Feb 27, 2011

Wow I only read a few of the first comments but the whole concept of hunting and trapping is way over some of you tree huggers heads do a little research of your own before you say your going to go and show these hunting guides and outfitters who happen to be some of the strongest most inshape fearless people I know your martial art skills. I respect wolves and I have seen a pack of wolves play and I have shot a wolf. Each time respecting their power and beauty.

TS
Feb 26, 2011

The old STARVATION card being played once again to justify the hunt. These animals have managed to survive and maintain an ecological, natural balance for decades without intervention from humans. Please don't buy into the "I hunt to prevent STARVATION" story, and be smart enough to see through that spin.

Tradionalist
Feb 24, 2011

I am Christian and an American. Like my father, to his father, and family before us; I hunt for food and for the sake of the legacy that is hunting (tradition). Hunting to me is a challenge, it teaches the necessary skills on how to survive on wild meat, and it is a way to take care of the gift the I believe is being taken away from us. The hunting industry glorifies the "trophy" thing too much. I believe in taking care of our remaining resources, game, and fish. Hunting wolves for the sake of food and tradition is one thing, but hunting them for the fun of it or for that trophy mount is a totally different degree. I would love to hunt wolves someday when the I believe that the population has leveled out and there are better regulations, but not today. I would much rather see in fact all of the game and fish species level out again, not just in Alaska but everywhere else as well. I beg to differ that hunting is a sport. Some people might treat it as so, but I do not. Hunting is a part of life. My grandfather once told me that you use a gun for two things: to survive and to eat. That's the way it is for me. Hunting is not a sport, it is a way of life.

Doubting Thomas
Feb 24, 2011

So, let me get this straight: The snared alpha female ate dirt and rocks for over a week while its mate and pups sat around and watched? Wouldn't they have tried to bring her some food? I doubt a snared animal could swallow anything. "Disney" is a most correct description.

Mik Jones
Feb 24, 2011

I understand hunting for food within conservation limits, but individuals who get off on just killing for killing's sake like Coke are absolutely sorry. I have known them up in Alaska and they are all insecure about their manhood, and contrary to what the writer said have no real survival skills other than revving up their engine to go faster. Coke and his ilk are cowards. I and many others would love to help him learn to be a man by comparing our martial art skills, but then Coke and Al are just all mouth when it comes to taking on anything that has two legs and a backbone.

brett
Feb 24, 2011

i would do the same to coke as he does to the animals

Bob, Tx
Jun 25, 2010

Does Candice Berner get a say in this controversy?


Poor, poor wolves. Just like the poor, poor mountain lions of Kalifornia!



This whole presentation (Dogs of War) was presented in a fashion to tug the heart strings of the ignorant and uninformed. Lotsa "kill the trapper" sentiment too ... shame when an animal of any kind is valued more than a human life. Skewed values for sure.

Andalora
Oct 17, 2009

This is a very sad article to read, after writing an article about the grey wolf last week for my ecology class, and hearing that Haber recently died in a plane crash and now there is no one left to spearhead the campaign for these beautiful animals. I can only imagine the great love and respect he had for the Toklat pack after studying them for almost half a century. I would love to do such extensive research.
While I could never imagine killing an animal, I am not against hunting. I do, however, believe there are limits as to how many animals you should be able to kill during a period of time, etc. I also am against trapping and snaring, because of the creulty of such practices. A kill should be quick - no one should end life in pain. I also think the meat of the animal should not be wasted, nor the pelt or skeleton.
People need to realize the important role wolves play in keeping populations in check. It's not the peoples place to replace wolves in this respect. As well, people simply can not keep caribou/moose/deer populations in check on their own. Wolves are natural hunters, here for a good reason. They should not be hunted. Think of all the car accidents involving cervidae? This is dangerous for humans!
I understand that wolves are not endangered in Alaska, but that does not mean that Wallace and his buddies should lay in wait for these wolves and slaughter them. The thing about wolves is, they're on and off the ESA all the time, being hunted to the brink and put on the list, rebounding, and being taken off - and then the viscious cycle starts again! Why can't we just leave them be?
Studying wolves you realize a pack is like a family. Only a single pair mates and reproduces, all the wolves care for the pups, they cuddle and nuzzle muzzles, and play. They mourn when a family member dies. I swear they are capable of love. We should appreciate the value of their existence as we value our own.

Eric
Aug 04, 2009

I was Artist in Residence in Denali a few years back. I stayed at the Murie cabin hoping to photograph wolves for my art. That was not to happen. That was the summer right after Coke killed one of the young and the alpha female of the pack I was hoping to see. Years I waited for this moment. The pack had moved on because of this. In my annual trips to Denali I have only seen one wolf since. The park is not there for a few pricks to trap, it is for everyone. More moose are killed by highway traffic than wolves. So now we have to kill wolves so people can shoot more moose. This is fixing the balance? Can humans be more stupid or bigger scumbags?

Reece
Mar 23, 2009

Theres another side of the 'coin' here. And I know from experience.
Most of the time when a wolf is caught in a leg hold trap or snared by a leg (which generally does not happen, snares are usually very lethal), they don't expend a lot of effort once they 'know' they are caught,so they lay or sit to avoid any further pain. Now if someone in a airplane starts buzzing and circling for pictures or just getting as close as they can to look at the wolf, this scares and or agitates the wolf, then they will make a very desperate effort to get loose, tearing skin, flesh and or breaking joints. Now visualize the plane flying off, and returning the next day to,, lets say, get better pictures, and lets say before the plane first found the wolf, the wolf was caught, but hadn't 'fought' wildly to get untrapped and it hadn't even torn its skin, and its joints were okay. So when the airplane arrives the next day the wolf is in much worse condition from the previous days 'airplane buzzing', NOW the photographer gets pictures of a wolf with a broken bloody leg highly visible. These are pictures that $ELL, and bring fame to those that show how 'horrible' trapping is. Better yet, buzz the wolf closely for 1/2 hour for 3 or 4 days, then the pictures get 'better and better'. Don't think for a moment some 'people', independent or paid by a organization, have 'morals or ethics' that are far ABOVE those who trap. Its the unspoken calling, the "pot calling the kettle black"!

Jim Smith
Feb 17, 2009

The fact that man does not interfere with the Denali wildlife is what draws millions every year. It is no coincidence that nature has done such a wonderful job. Once man steps in, all will probably be changed forever-for what-- MONEY.. how sad.

Double Cabin
Feb 15, 2009

People on the forums know I am considered "anti" wolf by most but I seriously encourage you to rethink how you introduce Ms. Ross's article here. With all due respect and IMHO you do Ms. Ross's excellent piece great disservice with the "...park under siege" in your byline. I read it in the magazine and its actually one of the better articles I've read on wolf controversy when it comes to balance in recent years; and although her conclusions seem invalidly drawn IMHO I personally appreciated her introspective honesty.

Given that: 1)Wolves and no other large mammals are really under siege by any stretch of any rational imagination IN Denali National Park or any National Park for that matter. 2) Wolves are not even remotely endangered in the State of Alaska. 3) You are a publication purportedly bound to dispense not misrepresentation but veracity in your pages...

B) I humbly suggest you leave your editorializing for somewhere much farther down the line than the byline. I have come to like your magazine more and more every time I read it at the Library in recent years, but when it becomes apparent a publisher or editor's kenning is in traction before any substance is presented reason forces me to doubt that some of you are not held hostage to your own emotional preconceptions.

But alas I am not a subscriber. Thank Ms. Ross for her own restraint, I will get a subscription when I relocate in April.

My apologies for the consternation but I know if you truly want your already fine publication to be better you will find it well founded. Thanks for yur time,

John

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