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Alaska trapper shoots horse, uses it as wolf bait and snares important female wolf from Denali National Park

May 18, 2012 | Wolves

Contact: Rick Steiner, Professor and Conservation Biologist
Oasis Earth, Anchorage


dead horse

In an incident somewhat reminiscent of the "bad old days" of the Wild West, a trapper from Healy, Alaska apparently hauled a dead horse out to an area off the Stampede Trail near the boundary of Denali National Park - an area made famous by the 1996 book "Into the Wild" - and set snares all around the area hoping to catch wolves attracted to the carcass. Wolves from Denali National Park were drawn to the dead horse, resulting in the killing of a primary reproductive female wolf from the Grant Creek (also called Toklat West) pack from the park, along with at least one other wolf. It is unknown how long the two wolves were alive in the snares before being killed and collected by the trapper. In addition, the only other breeding female from the Grant Creek pack was just found dead yesterday near her den, and thus it seems certain that there will be no pups in this pack this year. The Grant Creek wolf pack has been one of the three packs most often viewed in Denali National Park.

The snares, set by Healy guide Coke Wallace, were on state lands along the north border of the national park, and within the former protected "Denali buffer" where from 2002 - 2010 trapping and hunting of wolves was prohibited to protect the park's wolves. Ignoring several proposals and hundreds of supporting comments from citizens in 2010 to expand the no-take Denali wolf buffer zone - including a proposal from Denali National Park itself - the Alaska Board of Game instead eliminated the protective buffer altogether. At the same time, the Board also imposed a moratorium on future consideration of any Denali wolf protection buffer proposals until 2016. Some have questioned the legality of the Board restricting public process in such a way.


While the Stampede snares were required to be removed by the May 1 close of the trapping season, the dead horse remains at the site (see attached May 6 photo), continuing to be a nuisance attractant to bears and other wildlife (note the recent public safety hazard caused by the attraction of a brown bear to carcasses dumped along the Seward highway near Anchorage). And the rotting horse carcass is just 1/2 mile upstream from a cabin owned by Susan and Dave Braun of Healy, right next to, and below the high-water level of, the stream where they, and others downstream, get their drinking water.

While the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) say the incident does not violate state law, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) is looking at potential violations of state water quality regulations, which prohibit discarding carcasses in surface waters of the state.

The Grant Creek wolf family group ("pack") may be one of the longest-studied vertebrate lineages in the world, dating back at least to the 1930s when Adolf Murie studied them in the park. The pack's home territory is eastern Denali, and as it is one of the packs most viewed from the Denali park road, it is considered a high value resource for the several hundred thousand visitors that visit the park each summer (see attached photos of the Grant Creek pack from Dr. Gordon Haber).

Wolf Pups

Of concern in this incident is that the Grant Creek female was killed just after the mating season for Denali wolves (which is late February "“ early March), and thus it is likely that she was pregnant with what would have been a new litter of pups (perhaps this family group's only litter), when she was killed. Last year, park service biologists observed her nursing pups at the ancient Murie den, thus she would likely have been preparing to do so again this year. As such, her death causes a significant loss of new pups/recruitment to this important pack, and thus a loss of viewing opportunities for the many thousands of visitors to the park wanting to see wolves in the wild.

Research by the late Dr. Gordon Haber, who studied Denali wolves for over 40 years before he died in a plane crash conducting wolf surveys in the park in 2009, has clearly shown that the loss of even one reproductive female from a pack not only leads to the loss of that individual and all of her future pups, but also can cause significant effects to the social dynamics, behavior, distribution, and integrity of the entire pack. Park service surveys show that Denali wolf populations are significantly reduced from what they were several years ago, and one of the likely reasons is the continued take by hunters and trappers along the northeast boundary of the park.

"If anyone needed more evidence that the Denali buffer is essential to protect park wolves, here it is," said Rick Steiner, an Alaska biologist who was a friend and colleague of Dr. Haber's. "For one guy in Healy to earn a few dollars for a wolf pelt, the state of Alaska has sacrificed the extraordinary value of these living wolves to hundreds of thousands of park visitors. I will be formally requesting ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell to issue an emergency closure of state lands in the area to wolf trapping and hunting before the season is set to reopen this November, in order to protect Denali wolves from this continuing threat."

Alaska writer Marybeth Holleman, who is completing a book on Denali wolves and Haber's research, said, "Because Haber is no longer studying these wolves, we don't know as much about this female as we could. However, based on his research, it's likely she was the only pregnant female in the group this year, and without any pups as a 'social glue' for this summer, this most-viewed family group may disintegrate and disappear from the park entirely."

Steiner has submitted proposals to the next round of Board of Game meetings (in 2013) to: 1) rescind the Board's moratorium on Denali buffer proposals, 2) impose a no-take buffer along the south boundary of the park, and 3) to shorten the hunting/trapping season for wolves statewide to November 1 "“ March 1, to protect pregnant females in spring and dependent pups in the fall.

Other contacts:

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell:
Commissioner of ADFG Cora Campbell:
Coke Wallace, Midnight Sun Safaris, Healy:; 683-4868


This bastard should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of law then thrown in the slammer,fined heavily,then after jail time do years of community service. Laws should be very strict when it comes to animal use and abuse.

We need to stand together to force our elected officials through our voice and our vote to create and enforce laws to protect the environment and wildlife from the devastating destruction it has been facing these past years. The time is now! We may never have a second chance. In our lifetime most species will disappear due to our abuse and neglect, and so follows the environment. How much can the planet take before it will no longer sustain us, and rebel against us? How long will God tolerate our abusive ways? No matter if you believe in God, Nature, or both this destructive behavior is bad for all. Only the ignorant or evil don't see that.

They should take this idiot and hang him.This world is getting terrible with the way animals are being treated.The goverment should have protection laws against this happening.

Hunters and trappers seem to have gone bat sh-- crazy, and are of like mind to "R" people. We need to vote against any name with an "R" after it this fall. The anti- wildlife and anti-wilderness people have clearly aligned with the far right in a visceral, irrational stance against our concerns and interests. They need to be pushed back into the shadows of humanity where they belong.

On every level this is wrong! The trapper killed a horse-wrong! He used the horse to bait ,trap, and kill-wrong! He left a carcass of a large animal to rot in the drinking water of people downstream-wrong! this clearly and probably was not the first time this male, human did this cruel act of bait and trap thinking nothing of the chain reaction to animal and human kind. Monetary gain and the simple "way of the wild" have shown the dark side of some that walk among us. Only God can forgive this behavior, but reasonable people must find a way for this type of action to suffer some type of consequence.

Adding Coke Wallace to the list of people I wish the most horribly gruesome death imaginable!

Totally unacceptable. Trappers are just heartless murderers who's able to get away with murder... of wild animals because it's still legal.

Forget jail time! That guy deserves the death penalty! That is, if Alaska had the death penalty, which they don't.

This war on wolves is a chopped up mess of sporadic, random slaughter. The rest of what I have to say isn't printable.

The man who did that should be locked up for a long time!!! What he did to the horse and the wolves is completely unacceptable!!!


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