Officials Reaffirm Wolf Kills

Pilots will also guide hunters on snowmachines

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / December 16, 2003

Wearing wolf masks, waving signs and singing Christmas carols with anti-hunting sentiments worked in, nearly two dozen demonstrators gathered in South Anchorage at lunchtime Monday to protest the state's aerial wolf-kill program in McGrath.

The demonstration outside the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices didn't have the desired effect, however. Meeting by teleconference later that afternoon, the Alaska Board of Game reaffirmed its intent to kill 40 to 45 wolves near McGrath. Then it approved plans to use private pilots to kill more than 100 wolves in the Nelchina basin early next year.

The board also paved the way for hunters on snowmachines to help out in the new wolf-kill programs after it approved radio and cellular telephone communication between ground and air.

If the predator control plans sound familiar, they should be. Both the wolf-kill votes and the demonstrations against them were replays of a board meeting in Anchorage last month. The original meeting results were nullified because the meeting had not been properly publicized.

On Monday, the board had to revisit nearly two dozen Western Alaska hunting and trapping proposals. On each issue, the board considered new information or testimony on the subject and then voted.

The board was even more exacting when it took up wolf control, spending more than four hours reviewing three issues. The careful consideration was essential because the board may be hauled into court to defend itself, chairman Mike Fleagle said.

"You know how these findings are being ripped apart by opponents of this program," he said.

Although state attorneys successfully defended the board's McGrath wolf-control plan in court last month, the board reconfirmed the program. It adopted written findings and supplemented its previous plan with additional information.

None of the basics of the McGrath plan changed. The state still wants private pilot-gunner teams to shoot 40 to 45 wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area near McGrath.

Fish and Game research biologist Mark Keech told the board that if wolf and bear predation can be eliminated for two more years, the area's moose herd should grow by about 250 animals, a 50 percent increase.

"At that point, the population really starts to take off," he said.

Predator control in hunting units 13A, B and E, popularly known as the Nelchina basin, is substantially different than in McGrath.

It calls for using airplanes to find, then land and shoot wolves in an area of nearly 8,000 square miles but aims to reduce the wolf population of about 250 to a level that Fish and Game believes would allow moose to rebound, 135 to 165.

The board scrutinized the Nelchina plan, inserting information it believes will demonstrate the need for predator control, such as a comparison of harvest objectives with the actual harvest. The plan was also amended to note that the Nelchina moose population declined 52 percent from 1988 to 2002.

"It might bolster our position," Fleagle said.

The board also agreed to allow the pilot-gunner teams to communicate by radios or cell phones with hunters on snowmachines. Sport hunters can't use radios to guide each other to animals, but board member Ron Somerville of Juneau suggested the combination would help the state achieve its goals.

Other board members and Fish and Game staffers fear the program could get out of hand with pilots using other airplanes to spot wolves, or guide hunters on snowmachines. The paperwork in providing permits to so many people "would increase exponentially," said Jeff Hughes, regional manager for the department.

But the board eventually came to agree with board member Ted Spraker of Soldotna.

"We want this to be the most efficient, effective program we can get, and to use whatever tools we have," he said.

The new regulations should be implemented by late January, Hughes said, allowing the Nelchina program to begin. The McGrath program has already started, though poor weather has prevented hunters from shooting any wolves.

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

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