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Wolf Control Halted Near Iditarod Trail

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 3, 2005

Iditarod huskies are coming to the rescue of their canine brethren.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will shut down the state's wolf-control program west of Cook Inlet for a week starting today due to Saturday's start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The trail takes mushers through the area--Game Management Unit 16B--where hunters in airplanes have been shooting wolves for the past two months. State wildlife officials say the closure is due to an anticipated increase in air traffic in the area, not to protect huskies from being mistaken for wolves.

"Nobody is going to mistake a dog team for a wolf pack," Anchorage Fish and Game information officer Bruce Bartley said. "It's more of a safety issue."

The weeklong closure in Unit 16B won't help state game managers achieve their goal of killing at least 500 wolves this winter in five different areas around the state, especially since hunters have killed more wolves--82--in Unit 16B than any of the other four areas designated for wolf reductions.

With only a few weeks left to track down and shoot wolves before the snow begins to melt, shooters in the five different areas have killed a total of 177 wolves.

In addition to the 82 wolves taken so far in Unit 16B, hunters have killed 60 wolves in Unit 13 (Nelchina Basin); 41 in Units 12 and 20E (Tok); 28 in Unit 19A (Aniak) and nine in Unit 19D east (McGrath).

How many more wolves will be taken remains to be seen. While days are getting longer, allowing for more flying time, warmer temperatures will soon begin melting snow. That makes it impossible for pilots to land, whether it's to shoot wolves from the ground or to pick up wolves that have been shot from the air, which hunters are required to do.

"Once you get into the middle of March, the days are dwindling that you'll be able to do anything," Bartley said.

It takes fresh snow to track wolves and that is usually in short supply in March and April, he said.

"The guys that are successful are the guys who can find tracks and follow them until they find the wolves," Bartley said. "Without fresh snow you don't have much success."

Last year, the first time in a decade the state initiated lethal predator control, snipers killed 144 wolves--127 in the Nelchina Basin and 17 in the McGrath area.

The state expanded its predator control efforts this year by designating three more areas for wolf reduction plans as part of an attempt to boost moose and caribou herds for hunters. State game managers were hoping hunters would take at least 500 wolves this winter.

"We don't enter into these programs with expectations," Fairbanks Fish and Game information officer Cathie Harms said. "We have goals we would like to achieve but we don't have expectations."

The fact that hunters have taken less than half the number of wolves killed in the Nelchina Basin last year isn't surprising, according to Bartley.

"It's down but we expected it would be because of the ones we took last year and the fact the ones that are left are pretty educated," he said.

News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at tmowry@newsminer.com or 459-7587.


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