Are there mountain lions in the Adirondacks

Alaska: call of the wilderness

Cotten relies on “solid scientific knowledge” when it comes to reducing the population. But there is certainly data that calls into question the hypothesis that one only has to shoot a lot of wolves to increase the populations of elk and caribou.

For Coke Wallace, however, the matter is clear. In his view, it was overdue to thin out the packs and abolish the buffer zones around Denali. "The Alaska government is finally fighting against the authoritarian federal government and the left-wing eco-friendly," he says. “I liked the park a lot better when it was called McKinley and it was meant for wild sheep. Then they came from the state and forced this ANILCA stuff on us. "

He means the "Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act" of 1980, the law for the protection of areas that are of national interest to Alaska. It designated 420,000 square kilometers of land as national parks and other protected areas - an area the size of Germany and Austria put together. Another 200,000 square kilometers have been declared wilderness worthy of protection. Mount McKinley National Park was renamed Denali National Park and Conservation Area and its area tripled. The property rights within the protected area remained unaffected, as well as the right to hunt and set traps in some regions.

Many consider the ANILCA Act to be one of the greatest conservation victories in US history. For other residents of Alaska, however, it was the culmination of years of tutelage by the federal government. Wallace was still a teenager living in Fairbanks when protesters burned a doll of President Jimmy Carter there. In 1978, he had more than 22 million hectares of land in Alaska designated as a particularly valuable natural area - as a "national monument". At Denali, the residents of the surrounding towns organized a protest. 3,000 hunters and trappers marched into the sanctuary, fired their rifles in the air, lit campfires, organized dog races and demonstratively set traps - which, however, did not impress Carter.

For Don Striker, the director of Denali National Park, the situation is difficult. “Everywhere I've been before, people love their national parks,” he says. Before coming to Alaska, he ran five other parks in the United States. “Here the relationship is poisoned by the past. What people don't realize is that the sanctuaries have always been owned by the United States; they never belonged to the state of Alaska. For the politicians here it is worth ranting about the parks and ignoring the advantages they have brought Alaska - especially economically. "

That debate is a long way off when I poked my head out of my tent at Cache Creek at the foot of Denali in mid-March. It is the third morning of a dog sledding expedition - and the third morning with a temperature of minus 25 degrees. I consider snuggling back into the sleeping bag for a moment, but the sight of the summit is stronger. The rays of the rising sun cover the northeast flanks of the "Great" with an orange sheen.

The 30 or so sled dogs also get active. Yawning, they rise from their sleeping pits dug in the snow and begin to whimper excitedly. In winter, nothing goes in the remote sections of the park without dog sledding teams. They monitor the park boundary, support the researchers, and haul supplies and materials.

"Unlike a snowmobile, dogs are always ready to go," says squadron leader Jennifer Raffaeli. "And they have an instinct for survival that no machine will ever have."

With three dog sleds we continue in the afternoon to the ranger post at Wonder Lake. At two o'clock in the night we step in front of our huts and admire the impressive northern lights, the colored light curtains that stretch across the sky. "Much in Denali is out of reach for most people in winter - unless they are out with dogs," says Raffaeli. The dogs go on sleeping. All around nothing but silence and solitude.

I experience a completely different Denali three months later. It's the end of June, around 8 p.m., and I'm stuck in traffic on Park Road. A cow elk and two calves walk along the edge of the forest. Cars stop in the middle of the road, the drivers pull out their cameras.

In the 1960s, Murie fought against the construction of a paved federal highway leading into the park. He achieved a partial victory, the administration decided to tar only the first 24 kilometers. But as the number of visitors increased, the narrow street became busier and more dangerous - also for the animals. In 1972 Denali became the first American national park to have its own bus route, which significantly reduced the number of cars.

I only use the bus to get into the heart of the national park, roam remote areas for a week and enjoy the soul-cleansing effects of the wilderness. Towards the end of my hike, I come to the East Fork Cabin. The hut once served Murie as a base camp, from where he investigated the relationship between wolves and wild sheep. A dream came true for the young ecologist: He lived in solitude and was able to research animals with the simplest of tools. He concentrated on a wolf pack whose territory was on the eastern arm of the Toklat River.

Murie's superiors in Washington likely expected a dry research report. Instead he delivered "The Wolves of Mount McKinley", today a natural history classic. The book-length report was published in 1944. Murie was the first to describe the life cycles and relationships of wild wolves as well as the functioning of a complete ecological system. He realized that the inter-species relationships were more complicated than had previously been imagined. From then on, he advocated changing laws that would eradicate predators such as wolves, mountain lions, and coyotes.

I only use the bus to get into the heart of the national park, roam remote areas for a week and enjoy the soul-cleansing effects of the wilderness. Towards the end of my hike, I come to the East Fork Cabin. The hut once served Murie as a base camp, from where he investigated the relationship between wolves and wild sheep. A dream came true for the young ecologist: He lived in solitude and was able to research animals with the simplest of tools. He concentrated on a wolf pack whose territory was on the eastern arm of the Toklat River.

Murie's superiors in Washington likely expected a dry research report. Instead he delivered "The Wolves of Mount McKinley", today a natural history classic. The book-length report was published in 1944. Murie was the first to describe the life cycles and relationships of wild wolves as well as the functioning of a complete ecological system. He realized that the inter-species relationships were more complicated than had previously been imagined. From then on, he advocated changing laws that would eradicate predators such as wolves, mountain lions, and coyotes.

This attitude made him rather unpopular with the park authorities. But the more he wrote about his research in specialist journals and popular magazines, the more popular the wolves became. Nature lovers traveled from far to see them. The wolves became a main attraction in Denali National Park - besides the promise to be really far away from everyday life here.

One day out there, I wake up from my nap. I automatically pick up my cell phone. But here neither SMS nor calls arrive. No clock determines my program. I spend three days in the vicinity of the hut. I hike, read Murie's books and adapt to nature's pace. Later, on my way back to the road, I feel uncomfortable thinking about the busy buses and all the news that awaits me. Rightly so, as it turns out.

Even the news about the park isn't good. Biologist Steve Arthur tells me that the results of the latest wolf census are not exactly promising. The wolf carcass that we saw during my first stay in winter also continues to make him think. Arthur and his coworkers had dug the dead male from the EastFork pack out of the snow and discovered a noose around his neck. The animal had pulled the noose out of its holder, ran into the park and bled to death there.

Then in May Arthur had received a call from a hunter who had shot a wolf with a tracking device - legally outside the park boundary but near a place where bears were baited. The state wildlife inspectorate approved the controversial practice of attracting bears, which is banned in many other states, for grizzlies in 2012. The spring baiting season coincides with the time the she-wolfs have cubs. This increases the likelihood that pregnant or lactating females will be attracted and killed.

Arthur drove over and found a second dead wolf, a pregnant female with no transmitter. Monitoring data from another wolf's collar showed that other animals from the pack were hovering around the bear bait. Arthur informed the game watchdog and suggested ending the wolf hunting season there early. The officials agreed to a two-week cut. However, they rejected a permanent ban on wolf hunting.

After five weeks in the park, I still have time for one last excursion into the wilderness. From my place in the bus I discover a promising route that leads over a hill down to the Toklat River.

I go into the pathless landscape without a map and secretly hope that I will get lost in the middle of the mountains and lakes. When I arrive at the river, I discover a valley on the other side. It looks a lot closer than it is. What was intended as a half-day hike ended up taking over eight hours.

I don't mind because it's light for a long time. On the way back, however, I realize that there are a lot of bears here and that I'm actually much too quiet. So I speak out loud to myself, and when I come over the top of a hill, I actually see a large grizzly taking a bath in a pond about 200 meters below. When he hears my voice, he stands up on his back legs and looks over. He's a giant bear, but he's not aggressive. He wades to the bank, climbs out of the water and shakes the drops from his fur. Then he trudges slowly up the slope and is soon out of sight.

Shortly afterwards I stop the bus for the last time. A backpacker gets out. He has luggage for four days and a waterproof card with him. I ask him where he is going. With a sweeping gesture, he points over mountains, valleys, rivers, skies. “Anywhere,” he says.

Translated from the English by Sabine Schmidt

(NG, issue 2/2016, page (s) 60 to 89)