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Questions and Answers About
Aerial Wolf Control in Alaska

Defenders of Wildlife / January 28, 2005


What are aerial and same-day airborne wolf killing?

Aerial wolf killing is where gunners in airplanes can track wolves in the snow, chase them to exhaustion and shoot them from the air. Same day airborne (or land and shoot) wolf killing is where gunners in airplanes track wolves in the snow, herd or chase them to exhaustion, land the aircraft and shoot them from the ground. Both methods result in harassment of wildlife and wounded animals.

Doesn’t federal law make this practice illegal?

Yes. In 1971 Congress passed the Federal Airborne Hunting Act largely in response to aerial wolf killing in Alaska. While there are some exceptions under the Act, Defenders believes the Act does not allow the State of Alaska or any other state to use aerial gunning to radically alter the wildlife balances of an entire area.

Didn’t Alaskans ban private hunters from killing wolves with airplanes?

Yes, Alaskans have voted twice to ban this practice. In 1996, nearly 60 percent of Alaskans voted on a ballot initiative to ban same-day or aerial wolf hunting in Alaska. Again in 2000, a second ballot measure banning the use of aircraft by private citizens to kill wolves passed by a
margin of 54 percent. Defenders of Wildlife led both ballot measures. In 2003, the Alaska State Legislature overturned the will of Alaskan voters and passed a law that allows private hunters and trappers to kill wolves using aircraft in areas approved for predator control.

Is the state of Alaska currently killing wolves using aircraft?

To date, seven aerial or same-day airborne wolf predation plans have been approved by the Alaska Board of Game to artificially inflate moose populations for hunters. In 2003, two of these programs were implemented in the McGrath and Glenallen regions of Alaska. Permits were issued to approximately 40 aerial gunning teams and resulted in the deaths of 147 wolves during the 2003/2004 hunting season.
Five of the seven programs are being implemented this winter. Over 100 permits have been issued to aerial gunning teams to kill 610 wolves on tens of thousands of square miles in interior and southcentral Alaska. In addition to wolves, the Alaska Board of Game also approved the lethal removal of 80 grizzly bears this spring in an area along the Canadian border.

Are moose and caribou threatened in Alaska?

No. Currently, there are more than one million caribou in Alaska in areas as far north as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and as far south as the Kenai Peninsula. State biologists estimate moose populations to be over 160,000, more than twice the number found in the entire rest of the United States. There are no areas in Alaska where moose or caribou populations are considered threatened or endangered. There are places, however, where moose and caribou
populations increase or decline in accordance with natural cycles. Wolves and bears play an important role in maintaining healthy moose and caribou populations, as they have done for over a half million years before man arrived.

Last spring, the Alaska Board of Game lifted a statewide ban on moose calf killing in order to decrease moose populations in a large area near Fairbanks where wolf and bear control has been occurring for years. Such “eruptions” of moose populations are typical after intensive predator control. Previous eruptions have resulted in habitat destruction by moose and caribou, and ultimately a crash in the population.

Will killing wolves help moose populations increase?

Not necessarily. According to a National Research Council study entitled, Wolves, Bears and Their Prey in Alaska, (Page 4), “It might seem obvious that, if predator numbers are reduced, prey numbers should increase, but predator-prey interactions are not that simple. Predators and prey interact in an open system, subject to many influences. Prey numbers are influenced by weather and habitat quality, primarily food quality and abundance”.

If moose populations were in serious decline, are there alternatives to aerial wolf control?

Yes. Many scientific studies show that weather and human harvests have the most long-term impact on ungulate populations like deer, moose and caribou. Since we can’t control the weather, one of the best alternatives is to control human harvest. Although hunters claim they
take only a small percentage of moose and caribou, unlike four-legged predators they typically take the strongest and healthiest animals in the herd. This can have serious impacts on the breeding capacities of game populations, making them more vulnerable to both disease and

Is there competition between subsistence hunters and sport hunters for moose?

With almost 100,000 licensed hunters in Alaska, as well as 14,000 non-Alaskan hunters, hunting pressure on moose and caribou is substantial. Defenders of Wildlife recently compiled harvest data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and discovered that up to 60-85% of the moose killed in most of the aerial wolf killing areas is done by urban and out-of-state sporthunters.

Is there an overpopulation of wolves in Alaska?

No. The density of wolves in Alaska varies greatly from place to place. In most of the state, wolves are at moderate to low abundance. According to ADF&G, the current population is estimated at between 7,700 and 11,200 animals. Because these estimates are primarily based upon anecdotal information from trappers, management of wolves should be done conservatively. In the past 5 years, over 7,500 wolves have been legally killed by hunting and trapping. Wolves can be hunted and trapped on over 99% of state land in Alaska.

What is Defenders of Wildlife doing to stop the aerial wolf kill programs?

Defenders filed a petition under the Federal Airborne Hunting Act requesting that Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton clarify that the Act does not allow for states to use aerial gunning to grossly mismanage wildlife. Given Norton’s abysmal record on environmental protection, we were not surprised that she declined to Act. We refilled our petition in August, 2004 and are currently awaiting a response. Legal challenges to the aerial wolf kill programs are also being reviewed by our attorneys on a continuous basis. Defenders is mobilizing Alaskans and others to express their opposition to Alaska’s aerial wolf killing programs to Governor Frank Murkowski. To date, over 150,000 petitions have been sent to the Governor’s office calling for an immediate cessation of the state’s wolf killing programs. Defenders of Wildlife is not participating in a tourism boycott.

What can I do to help protect Alaska’s wolves from the aerial wolf slaughter?

Visit our website at www.savealaskawolves.org and sign our petition to Interior Secretary Gale Norton asking that she immediately enforce the Federal Airborne Hunting Act and stop the aerial assault on wolves in Alaska.

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