The Alaska Board of Game unanimously voted Wednesday to extend hunting and trapping seasons for wolves on Unimak Island in an effort to protect the caribou herd. The board also expanded the predator control area on Unimak Island.
Alaska Board of Game member Ted Spraker says it's not a very effective tool, but it's the only one in the box right now.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will not let the Alaska Department of Fish and Game do any predator control on Unimak Island. ADF&G planned to use a helicopter to selectively shoot seven wolves preying in caribou calves, but the calving grounds lie on a National Wildlife Refuge.
At the Board of Game hearing, Larry Bell, Assistant Regional Director of External Affairs for USFWS, spoke with board members and the state about the decision.
Several members of the board said it appears that the state and federal government cannot effectively work together on wildlife management issues because they are under two different mandates. ADF&G is charged with managing wildlife for the use of Alaskans, while Bell says that on Wildlife Refuges, the federal government manages for diversity, treaty obligations and subsistence use. He told board members the agency manages for all three equally.
At Wednesday's meeting, several subsistence users from the Bristol Bay area said they feel like the federal government manages for subsistence last, saying subsistence opportunities for caribou in the region are virtually nonexistent.
Cliff Judkins, the Board of Game Chairman, said that until the USFWS changes the mandate, the state and feds will never be able to work together.
Corey Rossi, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Director of Wildlife Conservation, says the department is carefully considering its options to bolster caribou populations on Unimak Island, but says letting the Unimak Caribou herd dwindle to nothing is not one of them.
Lem Butler, the Region 4 area biologist for ADF&G, says the Unimak Caribou herd is around 400, with only about 20 bulls. He blames wolves preying on caribou calves within the first few weeks of their life, and says another problem is that there are not enough bull caribou to impregnate the cows.