‘Among wolves’ offers window to wild — New book profiles enigmatic biologist and his long-term career of field study

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

To Marybeth Holleman, author of “Among Wolves,” the question she most wanted to answer in writing her book about Alaska wolf biologist Dr. Gordon Haber wasn’t what sparked his 43-year, single-minded, life-consuming career studying wolves in the wilds of Alaska. That part was obvious from a mere glance at his field notes, which offer a captivating window into the behaviors, adaptations and interactions of these fascinating and controversial creatures.

Haber explains his interest himself in one of the passages of the book, which is a combination of Haber’s research notes, reports and writings compiled and edited by Holleman, and Holleman’s own interviews and research about her subject.

Wolves enhance, “The ability of our surroundings to evoke the sense of wonder that helps us not just to live, but to be alive,” Haber once wrote.

“I was struck not just by his knowledge of wolves but also by his passion for wolves. He had been studying them for so long but he never lost that initial sense of wonder and that passion for his research, and that really struck me,” Holleman said during a presentation about her book at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus on April 2.

That drive struck early. In high school Haber wrote an essay on his life goals, saying, “‘I have decided on one factor, this being that I intend to live a major portion of my life either in or near the outdoors,’” Holleman said. “And that he did.”

Haber began his wolf research in Alaska in 1966 and continued it until his death when his research plane crashed in Denali in 2009. Summer and winter found Haber backpacking into Denali National Park and Preserve, via skis, snowshoes or hiking boots, spending thousands of hours observing his subjects. Once radio collaring began, Haber contracted a pilot and conducted much farther-reaching surveys from above, observing up to 18 wolf groups in the 6-million-acre park and preserve, as well as the Yukon–Charley Rivers National Preserve, Fortymile region and other areas where the state conducted predator control programs.

All the while he remained an independent scientist with private backers funding his research — such as the Friends of Animals — but eschewing any limitations or directions placed on his work, Holleman said.

“All that time gives him unassailable, experiential authority to tell us something about wolves,” she said.

Colleagues thought him meticulous, with a depth of knowledge to match his wealth of experience — and also enigmatic, being somewhat of a lone wolf himself. When he came to Alaska from Michigan in the 1960s, Haber met with pioneer wolf researcher Adolph Murie, who had turned his studies into the landmark book, “The Wolves of Mount McKinley.” Haber took up observation of the same wolves, the Toklats, that Murie had been studying since the 1920s, creating 70 years of continuous research. That makes the Toklats, along with Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, the oldest known, longest-studied, large-animal social group in the world, Holleman said.

“Which is, as you can imagine, of inestimable scientific value,” she said.

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Kenai wolves pack ups, downs — Population sees extinction to re-establishment, protection to predator control

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Between poisoning, hunting and trapping pressure and disease, the Kenai Peninsula has not proven a very hospitable home to wolves over the years.

As a companion to Marybeth Holleman’s presentation on her new book, “Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights Into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal,” at KPC on April 2, retired Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist Ted Bailey gave an overview of the history of wolves on the peninsula.

They’ve had their ups and downs since the late 1800s, with pressure from humans being one through line in their history. When the gold rush hit the Kenai Peninsula in 1885-86, the thousands of prospectors hoping to strike it rich brought a hefty distrust of wolves. Apparently they feared a rabies outbreak like they had seen in the Klondike, Bailey said, so they used poison to reduce the wolf population. Poison also was a method of choice for those wanting to harvest fur-bearers to sell the pelts for money during the winter. By 1915, Bailey said, the wolves of the Kenai Peninsula were gone.

By around 1965 they were returning, thought to have emigrated from the mainland after wolves started receiving protection by the fledgling state government.

“The roles were kind of switched compared to today,” Bailey said. “Back then it was the federal government that was poisoning wolves, and the state of Alaska, at statehood, they changed the outlook on wolves. They made the wolf a big game species and they protected it and developed seasons. Today it is kind of the opposite.”

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View from Out West: Small towns big on community

Photo by Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter. A herd of kids scramble after candy and plastic balls dropped by a plane in the Beaver Roundup Festival in Dillingham on March 1.

Photo by Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter. A herd of kids scramble after candy and plastic balls dropped by a plane in the Beaver Roundup Festival in Dillingham on March 1.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

At about noon March 1, I was sitting in our bayside apartment when my cellphone chimed. It was a text message from Yvonne at the local flight service station where she works:

“At 2 p.m. there will be a candy drop from an airplane, downtown! Don’t miss it!”

Yvonne knew I was hunting for good photo ops at the annual Beaver Roundup celebration. I’d already photographed several activities but hadn’t even noticed this one on the list of events.

The Beaver Roundup button is a collector’s item from each year’s festival.

The Beaver Roundup button is a collector’s item from each year’s festival.

When I texted back for clarification, she answered swiftly.

She’d spoken to the pilot, who would be dropping in low over Dillingham with his little red Super Cub. He was scheduled to drop candy, along with a slew of colored balls that kids could redeem for cash, near the local lily pond (near the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office) at 2 p.m. Since Yvonne had specified “downtown,” however, I figured that the venue had been changed because unusually warm weather had created a layer of overflow on the frozen pond. At 1:30 p.m. I strode out the door, two cameras at the ready.

On a curving section of an oddly deserted Main Street about 10 minutes later, I leaned against a creosoted power pole and waited. At 2 p.m. there were still no crowds. Nevertheless, I heard an airplane, and soon a red Super Cub was aiming straight for downtown, past the pond and directly above the street on which I was standing — and onward, without so much as a Tootsie Roll spiraling to the ground.

I watched as the plane roared out over Nushagak Bay, made a graceful, sweeping, left-hand turn and angled for the city water tower. It dived low, as if to land, and I swore I

Kids line the route of the Beaver Roundup parade equipped with sacks to store the candy loot tossed from the floats.

Kids line the route of the Beaver Roundup parade equipped with sacks to store the candy loot tossed from the floats.

heard children cheering. Then the plane was rising again, heading back toward the Dillingham Airport.

Just as I thought I’d somehow missed the whole thing, however, the plane turned again and headed back into town. Once again it flew over my position, turned above the bay and aimed for the tower. Once again I heard children cheering.

On the off chance that there might be another encore, I began running. Past N&N Grocery, left, past the hardware store, left, past the bank, right, past Bristol Bay Campus

Kids hustle to collect treats during the parade.

Kids hustle to collect treats during the parade.

and Dillingham High School, right. There, at the far end of a long, fenced-in playground, stood the water tower. Inside the metal perimeter surged a herd of children, brandishing plastic grocery sacks already heavy with treats and colorful plastic balls.

I raced for the scene just as the plane swooped again in front of the tower and laid down another volley. Screaming, happy children sloshed through snow, ice and wet grass, grabbing for goodies on the ground. I huffed and puffed into position, and my photographic efforts were erratic and disappointing.

Then someone near me said the plane was coming back one more time.

And thus it was that I witnessed (and finally photographed) the last candy drop on one of the last days of the five-day, 56th annual celebration known as Beaver Roundup.

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Night lights: Spring brings eclipsing views

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Days are getting longer and nights are getting shorter, so this will be my last column before fall. The winter constellations Orion, Gemini, Taurus, Canis Major and Auriga with all their bright stars are now visible in the west, setting during the late evening. Leo with its bright star Regulus is speeding across the sky, thus I perceive Leo as the harbinger of spring. When it appears in the east winter’s end will soon be here, and when it reaches the western horizon, flowers are in full bloom and deciduous trees will have regained their leaves. In addition, the summer triangle comprised of the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair reappears in the northeast.

Planets in the evening and all night: Saturn and Mars are visible all night long, forming a large triangle with red Arcturus. In early April, Mars is really close to Virgo’s Spica, and by month’s end it will retrograde quite a bit toward the west. Arcturus itself is the bottom star of Bootes, also commonly seen as an ice cream cone.

The full moon appears next to Mars on April 13 and 14 (the evening of the lunar eclipse) and next to Saturn on April 16.

Jupiter is visible near Gemini’s Castor and Pollux, from dusk on until long after midnight, farther in the west. It is so bright that it’s the first object we see. It is joined by the waxing first quarter moon April 5 and 6, and by the waxing crescent moon May 3.

Jupiter is the brightest wanderer in the sky because Venus rises together with the sun and will not be visible again until fall. However, since this is Alaska, you may spot it very low on the northeastern horizon around 2 a.m. during June and July.

Mercury, Uranus and Neptune rise with the sun, so that they can’t be seen against the bright daytime sky.

The Lyrid meteor shower (April 16 through 25) peaks in the early morning hours of April 22. The constellation Lyra with its bright star Vega is high above the southern horizon. As the meteors seem to emanate from that spot in the sky, look all around Lyra.

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Plugged In: New look — Find deals, quality in existing lenses

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Our recent suggestions about using older, high-end lenses with modern cameras apparently struck a chord for readers who asked for more information.

The advent of mirrorless compact-system cameras opens up more opportunities to mix and match many of the best older lenses from a variety of makers with modern digital cameras, using a variety of adapters. This often, though not always, results in improved image quality and lower costs. Here’s how and why.

In order for any lens to focus distant objects clearly, that lens must be able to achieve a specific minimum distance from the film or sensor, a distance that’s specific to each lens. If the rear of the lens can’t get close enough to the sensor, then sharp focus will be limited to very close subjects. That’s termed optical “infinity,” a focus distance that’s usually about 20 feet or less for most lenses, rather different than true infinity.

Because CSC bodies are so thin, there’s usually more than enough distance to use a mechanical adapter that properly spaces and mounts older, film-era and current dSLR lenses at a total length that allows sharp focus at optical infinity. That’s because those adapted lenses are designed for moving-mirror SLR cameras.

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Rings a bell — Good Friday Earthquake remembered with safety drills, bell peals

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Students in Jane Evenson’s kindergarten class at Soldotna Elementary School practice staying safe during an earthquake drill held Thursday on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Students in Jane Evenson’s kindergarten class at Soldotna Elementary School practice staying safe during an earthquake drill held Thursday on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Kids, let Dennis Shangin be a lesson in how not to react during an earthquake.

He was 6 at the time of the Good Friday quake March 27, 1964, playing outside his home in Perryville on the Alaska Peninsula.

“The only way I remember it is I was trying to run away from my mom,” said Shangin, of Soldotna. “She came out hollering so I started running. I thought she was mad at me. ‘I didn’t do it!’”

He remembers the ground starting to undulate, like long, slow waves rolling onto a sandy shore.

“I kept looking back and running and I’d fall down. She was just hollering at me, that’s why I kept running,” he said.

A much better example is that set by the kindergarteners in Jane Evenson’s class at Soldotna Elementary School, one of the many schools, workplaces and organizations statewide participating in the Great Alaska ShakeOut drill Thursday to commemorate the ’64 quake.

When the intercom chimed in during story time to announce the start of the drill, the students were prepared, having already practiced and discussed what to do if the earth started to move, or if they were told to pretend the earth was moving.

“When an earthquake happens we don’t plan for it so we’re going to pretend right now that we don’t know it’s going to happen,” Evenson said. “How are we going to be safe today? Where are we going to go?”

The answers were quick and enthusiastic: Get under a table! Away from the glass windows! Cover your head!

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Spring into action — Gardening club digs into growing season info

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Liz Lynch, of North Kenai, and Alison Cramer, of Kenai, discuss utilizing high and low tunnels — seen with a tomato growing under it — during a Get Ready for Spring event held by the Central Peninsula Garden Club on Saturday in Kenai.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Liz Lynch, of North Kenai, and Alison Cramer, of Kenai, discuss utilizing high and low tunnels — seen with a tomato growing under it — during a Get Ready for Spring event held by the Central Peninsula Garden Club on Saturday in Kenai.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

With the days getting longer and warmer, it’s nearly time for the trowels and tools to come out for gardening season, and green thumbs planning for another year’s bounty from the garden and beautiful bouquets in the flower beds met this past weekend to share their knowledge with each other and those interested in learning how to grow their own.

“Spring is always a time when people start getting incredibly anxious to get their hands in the dirt,” said Marion Nelson, president of the Central Peninsula Garden Club, which held a Get Ready for Spring event at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Saturday, which was attended by several hundred people over the course of the day.

Nelson said the garden group felt something formal was in order to share how-to knowledge with people who become interesting in home gardening each season.

“Each spring it increases by 200 percent,” she said. “So we decided to move to a larger venue where people could take in more information easier.”

On Saturday there were dozens of stations, covering an array of gardening topics —starting seeds, composting, building raised beds, growing potatoes and organic gardening, just to name a few — with professionals at each station to discuss information and answer questions. Many also brought with them physical setups to demonstrate the gardening principles they were discussing.

“People interested in plating this season need to get their seeds growing, so a lot of the focus was how to get started now,” Nelson said.

The boom in new gardeners each year is a trend garden clubs across Alaska and the Lower 48 have been seeing in recent years.

“People are becoming more interested in growing their own food for cost savings, health and self-sustainability, a little like with the victory gardens of long ago,” she said, the latter point referring to gardens planted in private residences and public parks during World War I and II to reduce pressure on the public food supply.

“People also don’t want pesticides and chemicals on their food, so we’re seeing a resurgence in organic gardening, and how to store the food grown in various ways, like root cellars,” Nelson said.

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