Plane Missing at Denali National Park and Preserve With Noted Wolf Biologist Aboard

An aerial search was under way Thursday for a missing plane with a noted wolf biologist in Denali. Photo by QT Luong, used with permission. www.terragalleria.com/parks

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.

Comments

I know Gordon and respect his work as one who looks at things differently than many other biologists. I hope this has a good ending for a man so dedicated to the wolves in Alaska.

Gordon Haber has long been a strong advocate for greater protection of the wolves in the Denali area. He never hesitated to call the Park Service to task when he felt it was giving the wolves adequate protection. I certainly hope the search is successful and both the pilot and Gordon are safe. The plane likely has an emergency locator transmitter that should have activated if the plane came down hard. It is a big country, and visually locating something as small as a single engine aircraft can be frustratingly difficult.

Gordon Haber knows wolves the way Murie knew wolves - as individuals, as family groups. If we've lost him, which it now appears we have, then the wolves have lost a tireless and dedicated advocate. I hope the Park Service will reevaluate the way they manage wolves and start to look at families rather than overall population numbers. Toklat, Mt. Margaret...all the packs that have been decimated by a few trappers and hunters lurking just outside the park boundaries. Gordon's message must live on.

Regardless of whether or not you agreed with Haber's viewpoint, you had to respect his commitment and tenacity. He helped to counterbalance those who believe the only good wolf is a dead wolf. His voice will be missed.

One of the finest people I ever knew. Dedicated to his work and to justice and truth in the management of the treasured resources with which we have been blessed. Ian McLeod and I walked north of the park road along the Toklat River to act as assistants in observing the Toklat Pack back in the 80's. A great friend to man and wolf, a sly smile and great sense of humor in his private times and a dedicated confidence when confronting those exploiting our wilderness. I love you my brother, and I as many others will miss you. The wolves were already so oppressed.....I truly wonder who will stand for them now.