Governor Stands Firm on Aerial Wolf Control Plans

BOYCOTT: State won't be cowed by animal rights groups, Murkowski says

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / December 11, 2003

Gov. Frank Murkowski says he won't yield to tourism boycott threats and call off the controversial aerial wolf-control program near McGrath, but adds that the state could do a better job explaining itself to the nation.

"Obviously we're concerned about any action that would detract from the attractiveness of Alaska to visitors," he told reporters Wednesday. "But we've got to communicate that that was one of the things statehood was all about -- the ability to manage our lands and renewable resources. And we think we're doing a responsible job of that."

The McGrath program calls for killing some 40 wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area as part of an experiment. Biologists believe that reducing predation by wolves, bears and humans will boost the moose herd and eventually allow a bigger harvest by moose hunters.

When the Alaska Board of Game approved the plan earlier this year, it called for Department of Fish and Game employees to shoot all the wolves in five packs from helicopters, using high-power rifles. Biologists said it was the most efficient and humane way to eliminate the predators.

But Murkowski surprised wolf-control advocates by prohibiting state employees' participation. Instead, he said McGrath-area residents should do the shooting, since they were the primary beneficiaries.

On Wednesday, Murkowski stood by his decision. "It can be done best by local people in the area who have a concern about their subsistence dependence," he said.

Fish and Game has issued permits to three pilot-gunner teams, though only one is from McGrath. The others are from Glennallen and the Cook Inlet region. They receive no compensation other than the wolves they kill, which must be retrieved. The teams can shoot from airplanes using shotguns or after landing using rifles.

Opponents fear that wolves will be wounded and die slow, painful deaths. But Murkowski said he would refuse to allow state biologists to participate, even if that meant flying in to finish off wounded animals.

"Humaneness is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "If you run 'em down in a helicopter and shoot 'em, that's pretty efficient. If you run 'em down in a Super Cub (a small, low-flying airplane), that requires a little more skill and the wolf has probably got a better chance. So I don't agree one method is more humane. The objective is to reduce the number of predators."

Talk of a tourism boycott, as proposed by the Connecticut-based animal rights group Friends of Animals, hasn't fazed him, Murkowski said.

"I haven't changed my position at all, and I don't intend to change. I think we're right on target," he said. The state's predator-control policy "is well thought out and represents an appropriate action by the state, through the (Game) Board, involving the local people."

Predator control has always been an element of game management, Murkowski said. Other states kill thousands of coyotes every year, but Alaska seems to be held to a higher standard, where people who have never visited the state imagine wolves as majestic creatures that shouldn't be touched, he said.

"But they never look at the majesty of the moose calf, and the right for that calf to reproduce," Murkowski said.

"Yeah, we're concerned" about a tourism boycott, the governor said. "But on the other hand, we've got a state to manage and a game population to manage, and we've got to do it not on a basis of emotion but on a basis of sound science."

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

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