FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Wolf hunting season will end two weeks early near Denali National Park and Preserve after reports of a recent wolf shooting at a bear baiting station.
Alaska's Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten closed the season at midnight Thursday in an area to the north and east of the park, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1RPnEu3).
The closure comes as the park's wolf population wanes. A recent report from the National Park Service showed 48 wolves spending part of their lives in Denali. Ten years ago, the spring surveys usually estimated a wolf population of more than 100.
Hunters or trappers have legally killed four wolves in the park area this winter and it's deeply contested how much their activities have influenced the population decline.
Wolf hunting opponents have been seeking a permanent ban on trapping and hunting the animals for years, especially the ones that live in Denali.
Cotten said on Thursday that he closed the season early because of news that wolves were being attracted to bear bait stations, where they are often shot.
"It's an unintended consequence with the bear hunters. I haven't confirmed it yet, but it's possible that there were a couple of wolves taken in the early part of this month that we just found out about," he said.
"With these active bear hunters likely to take wolves as long as they're legal, we just decided that that's not going to work," Cotten added.
He said he's received hundreds of emails about the wolf deaths since being named commissioner in December.
NPS said three wolves were killed in Denali in early May. One was killed by other wolves but the other two -- a male and a pregnant female -- were shot by hunters near Healy.
The park service said data from the male wolf's collar indicated that he had spent most of the week scavenging at a bear hunter's bait station within a mile of where he was shot.
The emergency order only applies to the former buffer zone along Stampede Road and Parks Highways, where wolf hunting used to be banned until reinstated in 2010.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com
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