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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Loss for Alaska’s Wild

In Alaska, some people use airplanes to shoot wolves. But Dr. Gordon Haber used airplanes to help wolves and study the species.

Wolf
Dr. Gordon Haber was an important voice for wolves in
Alaska.

I was heartbroken to learn that Dr. Haber died last week in a plane crash in a remote area of Denali National Park, after embarking on a single-engine flight over the northern end of the park to monitor his beloved Toklat pack. The pilot, Dan McGregor, suffered severe burns but survived. 

Dr. Haber had been studying Denali’s wolf packs for more than four decades, and had been a critically important voice for wolves in Alaska where the state professional wildlife biologists were aligned in an unholy way with the hunting lobby. He brought knowledge and understanding about one of the world’s most misunderstood and wrongly persecuted predators. He was particularly critical of Alaska’s state policies of mismanaging wolves, through trapping and airborne hunting, to artificially boost populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters.

My colleague John Balzar interviewed the renowned wolf biologist in 1994 for a Los Angeles Times story on Alaska’s wolf killing program, and here’s what Dr. Haber said at the time:

We are shredding their social structure—the very thing that makes them wolves. We’re not talking about just having four-legged canines survive out there, but wolves. And what makes them wolves is their very sophisticated social structure. That’s what sets this species apart.

Wildness and wild animals have lost a true champion. We can honor Dr. Haber’s memory by fighting for the protection of wolves everywhere—from Alaska, where the state continues to wage its war on wolves, to the halls of Congress, which must pass the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act to stop the unnecessary and unscientific aerial gunning of these creatures.

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