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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)

Sometime after the 13 wolves were snared last spring, two escaped. A black Toklat male was spotted and never seen again. The other, an unidentified gray male with a grotesquely swollen head, appeared repeatedly near the park's entrance, blood caked around the wire still embedded two inches deep in his neck. I saw this wolf after my hunting trip with Coke Wallace, on a final drive into the park.

Walking out of the willow, he crossed the road, climbed a small embankment, and laid down. Only then did his yellow eyes drift over the snow to peer at me.

Some people, like Coke Wallace, draw near to wolves so they can dominate them. Others, like Gordon Haber, will sacrifice everything–even human companionship–to gaze into a wolf's private life. I've spent the last year with these men–and others like them–researching one of the nation's most complex land and wildlife debates. Both sides muster persuasive arguments, backed with statistics and science and unchecked passion. Even now, though, I can't decide who's right.

But there's one argument I can't buy. Some hunters and trappers will tell you that Denali wolves are nothing more than mangy dogs, protected from their one true predator in a glorified petting zoo. Emboldened by the presence of nonviolent humans, they have morphed into something less wild–and therefore less valuable–than a hunted wolf.

Next summer, a half-million people will come to Denali hoping to encounter a wild wolf. They will tap their savings and crowd into line for a backcountry permit, braving Alaska's unforgiving terrain to penetrate the heart of this great park. When they see a wolf, somewhere between the Teklanika pullout and Igloo Creek, they will believe that they have gained a clearer vision of God–or something very close to it. And for them, the power and purity of the Denali wolf will be unforgettably real.

My last encounter ended abruptly when the gray wolf stood up and padded into the woods. I stumbled after him, following paw prints as big as my own hand. At the top of the hill, I stood and listened, staring hard into the spruce. I wanted to see him once more, and to savor a moment when everything black and white blurred into a simple beauty.


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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