Weather Unlucky for Wolf-Shooting Teams in McGrath

Mary Pemberton / Associated Press Writer / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 12, 2003


Lewis "Lucky" Egrass hasn't been so lucky lately.

Egrass, 45, is a member of one of three pilot-and-hunter teams permitted by the state of Alaska to shoot wolves near McGrath.

For nearly a week, weather conditions have frustrated Egrass and his brother, Gary, in their attempt to participate in a state-sponsored program to eliminate all the wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area around the Interior village of McGrath.

On top of that, Egrass said he feels the animal rights activists that are behind a threatened boycott of Alaska's $2 billion tourism industry don't understand what motivates him. And he accuses the Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals and the seven Alaska plaintiffs fighting the aerial wolf control program in court of making a business out of opposing wolf control.

"They got millions of dollars... They made a business out of it," Egrass said. "How come they have never come out here?"

Egrass grew up in McGrath, a village of about 370 people 300 air miles from the nearest supermarket. Residents have complained for a decade that wolves and bears are eating too many moose, leaving them with too little to eat.

The state now wants to kill about 40 wolves to save moose calves from being eaten by wolves this winter. A bear relocation effort in the spring boosted calf survival in an experimental management area by about 20 percent, according to state biologists.

Egrass said 20 years ago when he flew aerial surveys for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, he counted 3,000 moose in a 75-mile stretch from Stony River to McGrath. Last fall, he counted 120 in the same area, he said.

"I feel like they got the whole state of Alaska held hostage," Egrass said of the wolf advocates. "I think they should come and fly the villages within 100 miles of McGrath here and talk to the people. Our game population is barely surviving."

Lewis said a 1-pound steak at the local store costs $12.50, a pound of hamburger $7.00.

"The villagers, they can't afford that. I think those people need to come up here and see for themselves."

Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said Friday she's made 48 trips to Alaska since 1979 and doesn't need to go to McGrath, particularly not now.

"I don't need to be invited to go to McGrath when they're primed for shooting wolves," she said. "I think I understand their motives and I disagree with them."

Feral said Egrass has it exactly right when he talks about wolves being a business.

"It is our business to champion animal rights and comment on the ethics and mistreatment of animals," she said.

Meanwhile, two of the wolf-hunting teams remained in McGrath on Friday; Egrass and his brother, who live there, and Arthur Wikle Jr. and Randy Price, both of Glennallen, who arrived early Sunday.

None of the teams has gotten a wolf yet, said Toby Boudreau, McGrath area wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.

He said Wikle and Price were checking in daily but he hadn't heard from them Friday morning.

Did he think they would fly?

"I imagine the conditions are good enough," he said.

Kenai radio station owner John Davis and his son, Jeremy, a big game guide and lodge owner from Port Alsworth, left McGrath after having no success for a few days.

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