Alaska's expansion of its wolf control program began this week with the call
for pilot-and-hunter teams to kill wolves in the southcentral part of the state.
The Department of Fish and Game said it is taking applications for a predator
control program about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage in the Nelchina basin,
an area bordered by four mountain ranges.
The state already has a wolf control program under way near the Interior town
of McGrath, where pilot-and-hunter teams are allowed to shoot wolves from planes.
The Nelchina plan requires pilots to land the planes before killing the animals.
The wolf-killing programs have prompted a Connecticut-based animal rights group
to launch a boycott of Alaska's estimated $2 billion-a-year tourism industry.
The Board of Game wants to remove about 140 wolves from an 8,000-square-mile
area in the Nelchina basin. Applications are available at Fish and Game offices.
About 30 permits are expected to be issued initially, with the first being approved
as soon as Jan. 22, said Bruce Bartley, a spokesman with Fish and Game in Anchorage.
Residents of the Nelchina area will get first consideration, Bartley said.
The board last month approved specific plans to extend Alaska's lethal wolf control
program to the Nelchina area.
The board had previously approved the killing of about 40 wolves in a 1,700-square-mile
area near McGrath. Three one-month permits were issued in November and December,
but unfavorable weather conditions have prevented any wolves from being killed
so far, Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms said Wednesday.
Pilot-and-hunter teams have said conditions will improve in February and March
for tracking wolves.
Bartley said the Game Board has heard complaints for years from McGrath- and
Nelchina-area residents that bears and wolves are eating too many moose calves,
leaving too few moose for people to eat.
The Nelchina basin area had a similar land-and-shoot program that ended in 1995.
After that, the wolf population in game management Unit 13 more than doubled,
Now between 70 percent and 90 percent of moose calves in Unit 13 are dead within
five months, Bartley said, and the cow moose on average are getting older and
producing fewer calves.
The moose population has declined by more than half in recent years.
"It is a vicious cycle," he said.
The predator control program near McGrath began last spring with the relocation
of 75 black bears and eight grizzlies. State wildlife biologists say the relocation
effort boosted the summer moose calf survival rate 20 percent.
The next phase of the program calls for killing dozens of wolves this winter,
a time when moose calves are most vulnerable to being eaten by wolves.
Harms said that within the next two weeks officials will decide whether to renew
the McGrath permits or issue additional permits. Conditions should improve in
spring because there will be more light, and likely more fresh snow and low winds,
Unlike the McGrath area, the board determined that land-and-shoot could work
in the Nelchina area because the area has fewer trees and bushes. The area also
tends to get more fresh snow -- good for tracking -- and the weather is more
stable, Bartley said.
If land-and-shoot doesn't work to drive down the wolf population, the board could
consider an aerial program like that under way in McGrath.
Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, said
she was disappointed that Alaska is expanding its wolf control program. So far,
the group's efforts to stop the program in court have failed.
Friends of Animals, which was behind a successful tourism boycott a decade ago,
organized 30 protests the first weekend after Christmas in cities nationwide.
Feral said 18 more will be held Jan. 17-19.