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UPDATED: Gordon Haber killed in plane crash

Craig Medred

Haber, 67, and Denali Park pilot Dan McGregor were flying to observe the wolves this week when their single-engine airplane disappeared. A search found it Thursday afternoon on a steep slope west of the East Fork of the Toklat River, Denali Park spokeswoman Kris Fister reported.

The 35-year-old McGregor walked away from the crash and confirmed that Haber was killed. According to the Associated Press, he was taken to a Seattle burn center.

Haber had been studying wolves in Denali Park since his days as a temporary park service employee there in the 1960s and kept a blog where he documented his work. Friends said that over the years he came to think of the wolves, particularly those in the Toklat pack, as family. He attributed to them a "culture,'' and repeatedly crossed swords with biologists in the park service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game who disagreed, and thought wolves should be "managed'' just like any other big game animals.

Haber was sued by a trapper after he let a legally trapped wolf out of the man's snare. A state court held for the trapper and ordered Haber and Friends of Animals, his sponsor, to pay $150,000. Haber was undeterred.

A former hockey player, he held his view stubbornly. That made him an easy man to for many to dislike and an easy man for many to admire. He liked to call himself an "independent biologist," but he was a key employee of Friends of Animals, an animal protection group fighting Alaska wolf killing programs in the 1980s to this day.

Haber was their expert. It was a role that strained his relationships with other wolf scientists. It didn't help that he sometimes borrowed other people's data without asking, or took positions -- among them the idea of a wolf culture -- hard to support with data.

Once he told the nation's eminent authority on wolves that he only started studying the animals because it was a good way to meet women. There have indeed, too, been many women drawn to the cause of saving wolves in the last three decades.

But though Haber might have had an eye for the ladies, his true love was for the wolves. He spent thousands of hours in the field watching them. He never seemed to tire of it. It appears it was what he was doing right up until the end.