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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)

Without Gordon Haber, we may never have known the story of the Toklat wolves, how, on successive returns to Coke's trapline, two more were caught in leg traps. Or that a few weeks later, the alpha male left his family and ventured east, where he was shot by a man on a bear hunt.

The six orphaned siblings survived the spring, and in May 2005, produced eight new pups. Gordon never doubted that the wolves–either the survivors or "recolonizers," as intruder wolves are called–would rebound quickly in the Toklat territory. "But," he wrote on his website, "this numerical recovery does not mean that what happened can be dismissed."

When Gordon got back to Fairbanks on the night of February 11, 2005, he wrote a letter to then-game commissioner Mike Flealge asking for an emergency closure because he knew the alpha male would return to the kill site–and Coke's traps.

"But Fleagle said what Fish and Game always says," Gordon told me. "'We don't see a problem because the wolves will repopulate'–as if there's no other consequence."

And yet, for Gordon, there is a consequence. He's invested too much, learned too much, seen things no one else has seen. Like wolves skiing down 60-degree slopes for the fun of it. Or wolf daughters "cooperatively stimulating" their mothers while the mothers copulated with their mates. Or a wolf chewing its dead mate's head out of a snare and carrying it back to the pair's den, then burying her body and howling from the bluff above her before running down and laying his beating heart across the stark blanket of blood-stained snow. If you are Gordon Haber, you cannot relent, and you will not, even if people claim your science isn't true. They're out there, the critics who say Gordon is in too deep. His work rarely appears in peer-reviewed science journals, because he rarely submits. If he did, says Denali's Philip Hooge, his study could cement the Toklat wolves' protection.

"In 26 years, Gordon hasn't published in the mainstream literature," Hooge says. "Cultural transmission, for instance, is controversial, so he has to back it up with factual data. But until he goes through the review process, we can't use it." Gordon agrees that he publishes infrequently, but that when he does it's substantial work that spans many ideas. "My Ph.D dissertation alone is the most comprehensive, carefully observed account of a large predator population in the wild ever conducted," he argues. But maybe being a traditional scientist isn't as important as turning his communion with wolves into direct action. When I hear the story of how he freed the black wolf, I realize he's gone beyond conventional fact-finding and analysis to righteous activism, something bordering on possession.

It was winter, and Gordon tracked a collared wolf to a jumble of illegally set snares. Five caribou were tangled in them, all in various stages of decay. The wolf sat there, too, snared around the neck and foot. Gordon tried to do the right thing, calling the ADF&G, who told him the game commissioner would come set the wolf free. Gordon waited for hours in the -30°F cold before cutting it loose himself. The moment was cathartic. "He let me massage his head, muzzle, around his ears," recalls Gordon, practically mooning. "At one point, I was sitting on his back. He could have taken my head off."

The wolf spared him, but the trapper didn't. Despite the illegal placement of the traps, the owner successfully sued Gordon for theft. Undaunted, Gordon continues to take matters into his own hands. Last July, he exposed an unauthorized aerial helicopter hunt. And he makes no apologies for liberating the black wolf. "There is no doubt in my mind," Gordon whispered to me as we sat in the brush last June, "that I would do the same thing again. It was the most incredible experience of my life."


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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