Hunters Plan for Wolf Permit

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / November 18, 2003

The way Bob Magnuson sees it, an Alaskan who eats moose and caribou should consider it his or her "civic duty" to kill a wolf every now and then.

"If you take a moose, you should take a wolf or five wolves," said Magnuson, a pilot who owns an air taxi service in the Bush village of McGrath. "You gotta maintain a balance."

Which is why Magnuson is planning to apply for a permit to hunt wolves with his airplane this winter after the Alaska Board of Game approved the state's first aerial wolf-hunting program in more than 15 years.

As part of a controversial predator-control experiment to increase the number of moose for local subsistence hunters, the state wants to remove 40 wolves from a 2,200-square mile area in Unit 19D east of McGrath, the same area it captured and moved more than 80 bears from earlier this year before the moose calving season.

"There's no way you can make money doing this; there's no personal gain in it for the wolf hunter," said the 63-year-old Magnuson, who hunted wolves with his father, Warren, in the 1970s, when land-and-shoot hunting was popular. "People that are doing it will be doing a civic duty by reducing the number of wolves.

"Some people might object to that, but that's the way it is," Magnuson said.

Officials don't know how many permits will be issued or who will get them at this point, said Matt Robus, director of the state's wildlife conservation division. Permit applications are available beginning today and pilots will have to detail their qualifications, he said.

"It's not like we have exact criteria," he said. "Obviously, (pilots) will need to know how to handle an airplane low and slow. It's not your everyday point-to-point flying."

Pilots will have to demonstrate a high level of flying skill, previous experience hunting wolves and knowledge of the area they will be hunting in, said Robus.

"We want to make very sure the people who get permits to participate are as well-qualified as we can find," Robus said. "We've got concerns we don't fill the sky with a bunch of airplanes focusing on a small piece of ground."

There is no set number of permits that will be issued, Robus said.

"We're going to start fairly conservative," he said. "We're going to put a small number of people out there to start and see how harvest goes.

"If we find out there's not much effort and it's resulting in a harvest lower than what we want to achieve, we'll adjust the number of permits," said Robus.

The state will maintain a waiting list of qualified pilots, he said.

The game board is also expected to approve an aerial wolf-hunting program in Game Management Unit 13 in the Nelchina Basin south of Fairbanks, another area where moose populations have plummeted while wolf packs have thrived.

The board approved the Nelchina plan in its meeting two weeks ago but a technicality prevented it from being put in the regulation books. The board is expected to OK that program during a special meeting next month and hunting in Unit 13 could begin in January, said Robus. The state is targeting between 100 and 130 wolves to be taken from the 7,800-square-mile region.

While permits are available, the state doesn't expect much hunting to take place yet. The best hunting is in the spring when the days are longer and the snow is deep, making it harder for wolves to get around.

"We recognize conditions don't get good until daylight starts coming back, but the board was interested in getting this program up on its feet so we could get something going when conditions do get favorable," Robus said.

The game board approved the plan despite the threat of a tourism boycott by animal conservation groups, the same tactic that prompted then-Gov. Wally Hickel to eliminate an aerial wolf-control plan in the early 1990s.

Wolf control has been controversial in Alaska for decades. Over the years, bounties have been paid and wolves have been poisoned, trapped and shot from airplanes. In some areas, wolf numbers fell so low that moose and caribou flourished and then crashed because of overbrowsing.

Support for widespread wolf control began to drop after statehood in 1959. Bounties were canceled and aerial sport hunting was banned in 1972. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game continued its predator-control efforts until 1986.

Alaska voters essentially banned aircraft-assisted, land-and-shoot wolf hunting in ballot measures in 1996 and 2000, and while regulations allowing state biologists to shoot wolves from the air for predator control remain on the books, Gov. Frank Murkowski has refused to let state employees do the work.

The Alaska Legislature basically circumvented both political spider webs earlier this year by passing a law that allows private citizens to participate in state-sponsored predator control programs.

That approach makes sense to former wolf hunters like Magnuson.

"The state doesn't have anybody that knows how to hunt wolves," Magnuson said. "Why not allow residents that know how to do it do it? It won't cost the state any money."

Staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or .


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