An aerial search was under way Thursday across the northern half of 6-million acre Denali National Park and Preserve where a single-engine plane with a noted wolf biologist went missing.
The biologist, Dr. Gordon Haber, has been studying wolves in the park since 1966. He left Wednesday on a flight to check on some wolf packs, according to John Quinley, the Park Service's assistant regional director for communications in Anchorage, Alaska.
“He was not working with us, he does independent work. They left in a Cessna 185 and were supposed to return by evening yesterday," Mr. Quinley said. "We got notified about midnight that the plane was overdue. We’re working with state troopers on a search. Seven aircraft flying at this point, trending on the north side of the park. The flight plan said they were going to be looking for wolf packs, and that’s where the wolves tend to be. At this point we don’t have any real specific information. Saying the north side of Denali is a fairly sweeping statement."
The plane was piloted by Daniel McGregor, a local independent pilot, according to Mr. Quinley.
Dr. Haber long has been critical of Alaska's wolf management plans, particularly their hunting and trapping regulations, Mr. Quinley said.
“He has been an advocate for stronger protection of wolves, particularly on the northern and eastern boundaries of Denali, which in various configurations have been open to trapping in recent years, outside the park’s boundary," the Park Service spokesman said. "His concern was, in part, that those wolves on the eastern end, some of the packs, have been studied going way way back, back to when (Adolph) Murie was working in Denali, and he saw a danger if those long-studied packs were eliminated by trapping or hunting that that’s a significant loss for the park and park visitors.
"He also saw that some of those eastern wolves, they’re protected in the park and they wander around particularly close to people at various times of years and they wander outside the park, in the spring, and if they wander close to people they wind up dead, in traps particularly," said Mr. Quinley.
The biologist also has urged the Park Service to do more to protect Denali's wolves, according to Mr. Quinely.
"Our sorts of differences of opinion with him, we have been looking at wolf populations in Denali, and he looks very much at packs and individuals," he said.