Anchorage, Alaska - Permits were mailed Friday allowing pilot and shooter teams to kill wolves near Tok as part of an expanded aerial wolf control program operating this winter in Alaska.
The program, now operating in five areas of the state, aims to remove predators from areas where residents complained that wolves and bears are killing too many moose and caribou, leaving them with too little food for their tables.
The state's goal is to kill more than 500 wolves over the next few months. Hunters reported killing 144 wolves last winter, the first year of the program.
The five areas where the program is operating this winter all have things in common, said Cathie Harmes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. For example, the areas can sustain more moose and caribou, but predators are keeping levels low, she said.
"These programs are in response to try and manipulate numbers to benefit people," Harmes said.
The program near Tok near the Canada-Alaska border is the fifth one approved since the state Board of Game and the state Department of Fish and Game reinstituted lethal wolf control after a 10-year hiatus.
Its goal is to remove about 140 wolves from the Tok area. The program will be suspended sometime in the spring, depending upon snow conditions. Snow is needed to track wolves.
The game board approved the first aerial wolf control program in a decade in Alaska in the McGrath area in 2003. As of a week ago, seven wolves had been killed under that program this winter.
While there are caribou near Tok, the focus of the program is to increase moose there, Harmes said. She said permits were mailed Friday for 12 pilots and 11 assistants to the Fish and Game office in Tok, where the approved applicants can pick them up anytime.
After meeting with the area biologist to discuss the program, the pilot-shooter teams could begin searching immediately, she said. Under program rules, teams are not paid but can keep proceeds they get from the wolves.
Troopers this year are conducting background checks on the applicants. The move is in part to try to avoid a repeat of what happened last year in McGrath where one of the pilot-shooter teams killed wolves outside the designated area.
"We do our best to make sure that people participating in these programs are upstanding citizens," Harmes said.
The various aerial wolf control programs under way in Alaska are structured differently. The McGrath program in a 3,300-mile area in the Interior allows wolves to be shot from both the land or the air, whereas another program in the Nelchina Basin requires that pilots land before shooting. The Tok program allows for both aerial and land-and-shoot.
Harmes said there are some radio-collared wolves in the Tok area that have been part of a long-term ecological study. Under the program, those radio-collared wolves can be shot, but she said participants can't use the radio collars to locate the wolves.
Other aerial wolf control programs operating this winter are west of Anchorage near Cook Inlet and in the central Kuskokwim River area.