Wolf-Control Issues in Limbo, with Time Running Out
Winter: Fish & Game Needs a Commissioner, and Culling Requires Snow.

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / February 7, 2003


Fairbanks -- Whether the Alaska Department of Fish & Game will kill any wolves this winter now that Gov. Frank Murkowski is in office remains up in the air.

"We don't know what kind of marching orders we're going to get," said David James, regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation here.

It's pretty well known what Murkowski said during the campaign about managing for maximum sustained yield, he said.

"We can put two and two together and say we think this is what it means, but we're just assuming." During his campaign, Murkowski said he would pursue predator management as a way to boost moose and caribou populations for hunters.

He repeated that theme earlier this month when he named six members to the Alaska Board of Game, all of them hunters and trappers who favor predator management.

"We've been talking about it with the governor," said Wayne Regelin, outgoing director for the Wildlife Conservation division. "Nothing has been decided yet."

But with Murkowski at the helm, it's not really a matter of whether the state will kill wolves and perhaps even bears. It's more a matter of when.

The Murkowski administration is "interested in looking at some predator management," said Matt Robus, deputy director for the game division under Regelin. "We're kind of standing by."

Former Gov. Tony Knowles called a halt to the state's wolf-control program shortly after he took office in 1994 and refused to authorize the killing of any wolves during his eight years in office, though he did approve sterilization and relocation of wolves as part of the Fortymile Caribou Herd Management Plan.

Two predator-control plans have been approved by previous game boards. One is for an area near McGrath and the other for the Nelchina Basin. Both involve reducing wolf and bear numbers to increase moose and caribou numbers.

Regelin said more work needs to be done in the Nelchina area before the state can consider killing predators there, but a plan for McGrath is pretty much in place if that's the direction the governor chooses to go.

Biologists have been studying the McGrath situation for two years to figure out why the moose population is so low there.

The commissioner of Fish & Game has the authority to implement either plan.

But Murkowski has yet to name a commissioner, in large part because it wasn't until two weeks ago that he filled the Game Board with the six new members. He named four members to the Fish Board two weeks earlier.

Those boards play a major role in the selection of a commissioner by providing the governor with a list of applicants.

The two boards are compiling and submitting a list, said John Manly, a Murkowski spokesman. The deadline for candidates to submit applications to the boards is Monday, and the governor should get the list within a few days.

"I would hope it's just a matter of a few weeks" before a permanent commissioner is selected, Manly said.

The Game Board will probably examine the two predator-control plans that are on the books and make a recommendation to the new commissioner, Manly said.

But with only three months of winter left, the state will have to act fast if it wants to kill any wolves. That most likely be done by shooting them from planes or helicopters.

"If the governor wants to do any real intensive control work, it requires snow on the ground," said James, the Interior supervisor.


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