How Will Governor Handle Wolves?

Anchorage Daily News / Compass / December 19, 2002


Gov. Frank Murkowski is now considering how radical a Board of Game he wants to nominate and how fast to start wolf control. I do not believe he is aware of the recently completed studies at McGrath addressing wolf control. I expect he will respond only to the hunters' outcry to make things easier for them, regardless of where they live or other concerns and values. The cry to enslave Mother Nature and kill wolves with a false expectation of improving moose populations is growing throughout Alaska.

I was a member of the Unit 19D East (McGrath) Adaptive Management Team asked to find a sound method to address the moose population problem near McGrath. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was instructed to convene this team to determine potential effectiveness of wolf control. Will the new administration use the scientific data collected during this process or just approve the misguided, wanton killing of wolves?

As part of our process, Fish and Game completed calf birth-rate and predation studies, and finally obtained an accurate fall moose population count. The fall moose survey showed numbers to be much higher than previously reported, near the population needed to meet the basic needs of McGrath residents. But the bull to cow ratio near McGrath was remarkably low, as low as six bulls per 100 cows. With so few bulls it is understandable that some hunters are not successful.

Fish and Game studies also showed once again that grizzly and black bears take more than 80 percent of the calves born each year, compared to only 15 percent taken by wolves. Dr. Vic Van Ballenberghe, Dr. Layne Adams and the state biologists specializing in population dynamics reported that in most places around the state, bears are likely to be the major problem in population dynamics, not wolves. The Fish and Game population growth projections showed that wolf control alone at McGrath would not make more moose available for hunters in less than 20 to 50 years.

The most important findings at McGrath were that the bull to cow ratio in areas hunters preferred was six to 18 bulls per 100 cows, compared to 37 per 100 in the rest of the area. The moose population in the popular hunting area was 550, with only 50 to 60 bulls. With a ratio of 37 per 100, there should have been 185 bulls, three to four times more bulls available to hunters. Average antler size in the popular hunting area was only 30 inches compared with 42 in the rest of the unit. Only one predator targets adult bull moose -- man. It is no wonder hunters complain about a decline in harvestable moose all across the state.

Murkowski has been in Washington so long he has likely forgotten what happened the last time Wally Hickel authorized wolf control in 1993. Almost overnight, Juneau was flooded by more than 100,000 letters of protest, and a full-scale tourism boycott cost the Alaska economy millions of dollars. Will Murkowski read the scientific proof that shows that wolves are not the source of the alleged problem and population growth studies showing wolf control alone is not effective? With the Internet to broadcast the facts, how many millions of tourism dollars will we lose if he chooses a radical pro-wolf-control Board of Game and authorizes them to rev up the helicopter gun ships? How much will wolf control fuel the battle over wildlife values nationwide?

I wonder why Fish and Game has failed to inform the public of the studies and reports that did not support wolf control. For those interested in Fish and Game's reports on the McGrath studies, they are posted

Leo Keeler is a wildlife photographer, conservationist and past Board of Game nominee.

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