Help us tell the story of Denali's wolves!

Alaska Wildlife Alliance has invited filmmaker Ramey Newell to explore the ongoing controversy over hunting and trapping of wolves at the boundary of Denali National Park. A Good Wolf [working title] will be an independent feature-length documentary that explores diverging viewpoints within the context of the lengthy, emotionally charged, and continuing battle over how wolves (and bears) are managed in the Stampede Corridor.

What exactly is a "good wolf"?  That depends on who you ask. A century ago, many Americans would have echoed a common government bounty slogan, "A good wolf is a dead wolf." But times have changed. Now, if you are a wildlife activist, a good wolf is probably a wild one, free to live its life unhindered by human interference. For a hunter or fur trapper in rural Alaska, the answer might have more to do with providing sustenance and livelihood for you and your family. To a scientist, good wolves might be the ones that provide useful data. If you are a visitor to Denali National Park, a good wolf might be the one that crosses the road in front of your tour bus for a photo opportunity. 

But this film is about much more than wolves. It's about the complexities and difficulties of balancing competing human interests on public lands. It explores opposing ideas about wild predators' place among humans, and what (if any) responsibility we might have to manage them within natural ecosystems. And it illuminates fundamental differences in how people determine the value of wildlife, wilderness, and National Parks.

A Good Wolf  will follow the activities of three primary characters over the course of the next year: a wildlife activist, a local hunter/trapper, and a Denali National Park biologist. Their stories and work will give viewers a compelling glimpse into the various ways residents relate to animals and each other in this isolated and often harsh landscape. Through these interwoven narratives, and with the help of additional expert interviews, we will be able to better understand the historical and contemporary issues at play, including political, regulatory, scientific, and cultural influences.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Denali National Park is said to be the historical epicenter of wolf controversy in America, which runs deep and wide. Transboundary wildlife issues are almost ubiquitous in National Parks across the country and have recently come to the forefront in places like Yellowstone, where reintroduced wolves are simultaneously lauded by environmentalists for their perceived positive ecological impacts, and intentionally targeted by hunters and ranchers at the park boundary. As the gray wolf faces federal delisting from the Endangered Species Act, the debate over its place among humans is rekindled. To unpack the deeper themes at play in this controversy, we can return to the unabated conflict at its epicenter.

A wolf travels along the road in Denali National Park

A wolf travels along the road in Denali National Park

THE CONTROVERSY (in a nutshell): 

This issue is pretty complicated (which is why filmmaking is the perfect medium to tease out its nuances), but here is a very brief summary:

 McKinley National Park was designated in 1917 as a 2-million-acre refuge for Dall sheep, largely at the behest of hunters who wanted to protect their favorite game species. It was also the only National Park that did not exterminate wolves or other predators from its land holdings in the ensuing decades, and official scientific study of the park's wolves began in the 1930s. When the park was renamed Denali and expanded to 6.4 million acres in 1980, an intruding 25-mile peninsula of land (Wolf Townships) near the town of Healy was left under state management, exposing wildlife to legal hunting and trapping pressure as they cross the invisible park boundary. 

 After the Alaskan “wolf wars” of the 1990s and strenuous advocacy from both wildlife activists and controversial biologist Gordon Haber, the Alaska Board of Game (which determines almost all state wildlife management policies) enacted a moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping in some parts of the Wolf Townships in 2000. In 2010, however, when the National Parks Service sought an expansion, the Board instead decided to rescind the entire protected area. Over the past decade, several of the most visible and longest-studied wolf packs in Denali have been greatly diminished or even eliminated entirely, which many activists attribute partly to trapping activity in the Wolf Townships. To complicate matters further, in 2014, the Alaska Board of Game approved “baiting” for grizzly bears in this area, allowing hunters to effectively lure wildlife out of the park. In 2016, the alpha female wolf of a well-known and long-studied pack was shot at a bear bait station in the Wolf Townships and her GPS collar illegally destroyed. The pack collapsed as several other members were killed, demoralizing wildlife activists and inflaming division among local residents.

A collared wolf crosses the road in Denali National Park

A collared wolf crosses the road in Denali National Park

 Wildlife advocates and many biologists have long maintained that this area, which serves as vital winter habitat for both the Denali caribou herd and the animals which rely on it for prey, was always intended to be included in the expansion and should be a designated protected area to provide a contiguous habitat zone for the animals who primarily inhabit park lands. Trappers and some hunters vehemently oppose such restrictions, however, as this area is widely known to provide some of the best fur trapping in the region--especially for wolf pelts. These groups argue that the park was designed to protect sheep (not predators), and that 6.4 million acres of restricted land should be enough. Furthermore, they point out that wolves and bears are not endangered in Alaska, maintaining healthy populations both regionally and statewide with legal harvest seasons, and that new packs and individuals quickly replace those taken by hunters and trappers. 

AUDIENCE, IMPACT AND DISTRIBUTION:

This film is intended to bridge divides, and to appeal to a broad audience both in Alaska and across the U.S. by including the voices of a wide variety of stakeholders: wildlife activists, hunters and trappers, tourism operators, National Parks staff, scientists, and local residents. Trust is a key component of making such a film -- the filmmakers take this trust, and representational ethics, very seriously. A Good Wolf is not intended to further entrench conflict or villainize individuals, but to portray actions, worldviews, and concerns with fairness and compassion. We believe this approach can serve to highlight the historical, regulatory, cultural, and political elements that have perpetuated this conflict without causing harm to individual people who participate in the film. We also believe this approach will hold the most impact potential to spur constructive public discourse and engagement that recognizes legitimate concerns from many angles, deescalates tensions, redirects criticism, dispels misinformation, and perhaps provides new avenues for collaborative/cooperative solutions. The film will screen at traditional film festival venues and other public screenings, and additionally the filmmakers will work with Alaska Wildlife Alliance to schedule community screenings across Alaska, providing access to the film for remote and underserved communities.

PROJECTED TIMELINE:

September 2019: First production shoot on-location.

October 2019 - February 2020: Seeking significant grant funding with work-in-progress sample, planning for second production shoot.

Feb/March 2020: Second production shoot on-location.

May/June 2020: Final production shoot on-location.

June-December 2020: Post-production.

January 2021: Release date.

A local trapper shows us the “most popular” leg-hold trap used for wolves.

A local trapper shows us the “most popular” leg-hold trap used for wolves.

Meet our Film Crew

We've got a solid team of both emerging and experienced filmmakers, all with well-rounded skills and the ability to fulfill multiple roles. When you're on a small team, you have to be nimble and flexible, and we're all ready to jump in wherever needed!

DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Ramey Newell is an independent filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist. Her short films have screened at festivals and in galleries, museums, and other art spaces throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, including: the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Alchemy Moving Image Festival in Hawick, Scotland; Mountainfilm in Telluride, Colorado; SCINEMA International Science Film Festival in Australia; and Antimatter [Media Art] in Victoria, Canada. Ramey’s films have also earned awards such as the Jury’s Stellar Award (Grand Prize) at Black Maria Film Festival (2018) and Best Director at Mirror Mountain Film Festival (2017). She was also a 2016 Flaherty Seminar Fellow and a 2019 IWFF Filmmaker Fellow. 

CAMERA/SOUND: Keely Kernan is a photographer and independent filmmaker (In the Hills and Hollows, 2017). She is a recipient of the 2018 Princess Grace Award in film and was also a 2017 Flaherty Seminar Fellow. Keely has produced work for publications such as the Guardian, The Huffington Post, and CCTV Africa. She has also screened and exhibited her films at the DC Environmental Film Festival, Carnegie Institution for Science, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Charleston International Film Festival, The Gordon Parks Museum, and others. 

CAMERA/SOUND: Lindsay Taylor Jackson is a photographer and emerging filmmaker. She has worked as a Cinematographer and as an Assistant Editor on The Address for Florentine Films under Ken Burns and Editor Craig Mellish (ACE), after first serving as an intern on The Dust Bowl and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Lindsay attended the film department at Keene State College, a study abroad Production Track at The Academy of Film and Performing Arts in the Czech Republic, and the first Cinematography Intensive for Women at the American Film Institute (AFI). She also recently completed her first feature-length documentary, Navigating THRU, about female thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

EDITOR/CAMERA/SOUND: Adam Sekuler is an award-winning independent filmmaker and editor (Open Air, 2015; Pow Wow, 2016; Tomorrow Never Knows, 2017; 36 Hours, 2019), with an MFA in Studio Art (film) from the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

Photo by Kalkin Kumar

Photo by Kalkin Kumar

ADVISORS/CONSULTANTS:

  • Historical/factual advisor: Professor Tim Rawson, PhD., Alaska Pacific University. Author of “Changing Tracks: Predators and Politics in Mt. McKinley National Park” (2001). 

  • Pre-production Coordinator: Nicole Schmitt, Director of Programs and Development at the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.