Game Board Meeting Draws Howls

Board is likely to approve aerial wolf hunting plans today

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / November 4, 2003


Larla, one of four dogs wearing mock bullet-proof vests, howls during a demonstration Monday near the Millennium Alaskan Hotel in Anchorage, where the Alaska Board of Game is meeting to discuss wolf control. (Photo by AL GRILLO / The Associated Press)
Maury Mason, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance (Photo by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)
Klondike wears a mock bullet-proof vest during a protest organized by the Alaska Wildlife Alliance on Monday morning near the Millennium Alaskan Hotel where the Board of Game is expected to approve aerial wolf hunting. (Photo by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)
Click on photo to enlargeThree dozen protesters howled and prowled the sidewalk outside the Alaska Board of Game meeting in Spenard on Monday, hoping to raise enough ruckus to stop the board's planned resumption of aerial wolf kills.

Three dozen protesters howled and prowled the sidewalk outside the Alaska Board of Game meeting in Spenard on Monday, hoping to raise enough ruckus to stop the board's planned resumption of aerial wolf kills.

"Just in case the world thinks wolves in Alaska are safe, we're here to tell them they're not," said organizer Maury Mason of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

As demonstrators waved signs proclaiming "The world is watching" and "Board of Game, Board of Shame," volunteers chained four large, wolf-like dogs on a patch of grass and dressed them in mock-bulletproof vests.

The body armor signified a need for protection that wildlife advocates around the world thought Alaska wolves already had, Mason said. Alaska voters basically banned airplane-assisted land-and-shoot wolf hunting in ballot measures in 1996 and 2000. The federal government halted sport hunting from airplanes in 1972.

Nevertheless, the Game Board today is expected to authorize the first aerial predator control program in Alaska in more than 15 years, using a new state law that allows private pilots to participate.

Hence the bulletproof vests, Mason said. "Nothing else seems to be working."

The state has shot, trapped, transported and sterilized thousands of wolves since statehood in 1959. Many hunters, biologists and game managers maintain that killing or removing predators from small areas at the right time can help moose and caribou stocks rebound.

But public opposition to wolf killing has grown during the same period. Aerial shooting went virtually unnoticed in the early 1980s, but a proposal in the early 1990s drew a national tourism boycott. A state wolf-snaring program concentrated in an area south of Fairbanks was abandoned in late 1994 after newspaper and television news programs showed photographs and video of a state-snared wolf that had chewed a paw off to try to escape.
The wolf-control plan before the Game Board today could bring a firestorm, if previous programs are any indication. Starting as early as 8:30 a.m., the board is expected to approve plans to shoot around 40 wolves in a 520-square-mile area around McGrath this winter.

Pilots chosen to participate will get federal permits, no longer available to sport hunters, because the program is an approved predator-control effort. For the same reason, the voter-approved limits on land-and-shoot hunting don't apply either, according to state attorneys.

The McGrath effort is part of an experiment to reduce predation from a small area to see how it affects moose survival. Earlier this year, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists tranquilized about 90 black and brown bears and flew them up to 250 miles away so they would not eat so many moose calves. Biologists say the summer survival rate was higher than normal as a result.

The wolf-kill plan is part of the same experiment. Originally the state had proposed that its biologists shoot the wolves from helicopters, but Gov. Frank Murkowski nixed the plan. Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, then pushed an amendment to state law allowing private citizens to participate in state-sponsored predator control.

This week the board could also authorize a similar plan for a much larger area, game management units 13A, 13B and portions of 13E, in the Nelchina basin east of Anchorage. Other areas in line for such programs are unit 16B, which includes the Skwentna/Rainy Pass areas, and unit 19B near Aniak.

Protesters on Monday largely ignored the legal fine points of the new program. They see private citizens killing wolves from airplanes.

Alaskans voted twice on that issue, said Cat Stephenson of Anchorage. "They're just thumbing their nose at the power of Alaska voters."

Stephenson said subsistence should be the highest priority use of moose and caribou, but believes aerial wolf control is aimed to benefit sport hunters more than subsistence.

"Those moose are being taken for a lot of reasons," she said, "but I don't think we need to decimate wolf populations just to make life easier on us."

Karen Deatherage of Defenders of Wildlife was more blunt: "This has nothing to do with subsistence," she said. "The bottom line is that the (sport hunting) guides and transporters are coming out there in unprecedented numbers. That's what this is all about."

Wolf-protection advocates also challenge the science and politics behind the state's plans. Wildlife census surveys are often out of date, population goals for moose can be changed by a board vote, and even the subsistence needs of communities are largely speculative, they say.

Organizers on Monday displayed some of the 500,000 signatures they say they gathered in support of Alaska's wolves before and after the 2000 ballot initiative. The signature-gathering will begin anew, said Mason, of the wildlife alliance.

"We're getting a million," he said.

As protesters walked and chanted in the morning sun, the Game Board was inside Spenard's Millennium Alaskan Hotel, methodically considering more than two dozen proposals to amend hunting and trapping regulations in Western Alaska and the Arctic.

Among the proposals are several to help moose stocks rebound on the lower Kuskokwim River and near Kotzebue. Others seek more liberal seasons or bag limits on wolves and brown bears, ostensibly reducing predation on moose.

"It's local people trying to solve local problems," said Fish and Game official Wayne Regelin.

The board meeting resumes today at 8:30 a.m. at the Millennium.

Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at or at 257-4310.

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