Permits for Aerial Hunts of McGrath Predators Available

WOLVES: Pilots must prove their low-flying ability
and knowledge of wolves, area.

Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / November 19, 2003

FAIRBANKS -- Bob Magnuson considers it his civic duty to kill a wolf every now and then.

That's why he's 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.

"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."

The program is aimed at increasing the number of moose for local subsistence hunters. The state wants to remove 40 wolves from a 2,200-square-mile area east of McGrath, the same area from which it captured and moved more than 80 bears earlier this year before the moose calving season.

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 it.

The Alaska Legislature earlier this year passed a law allowing private citizens to participate in state-sponsored predator control programs.

Officials don't know how many permits will be issued or who will get them yet, said Matt Robus, director of the state's wildlife conservation division.

Permit applications became available beginning Tuesday, and pilots must 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, experience hunting wolves and knowledge of the area they will hunt in, 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."

Robus said the state will maintain a waiting list of qualified pilots.

The Game Board also is expected to approve an aerial wolf-hunting program in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage, 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 again during a special meeting next month. The program could begin in January.

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.


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