Board Ups Bag Limit on Wolves


Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 6, 2004


The Alaska Board of Game set its sights on wolves in the Kuskokwim River country on Friday.

The state game board lengthened the hunting season and upped the bag limit on wolves in the central Kuskokwim region in hopes that hunters will kill more of the wolves that local residents say are preying on the moose they rely on.

Meeting in Fairbanks for the ninth day in a two-week meeting to consider changes to Interior hunting and trapping regulations, the board voted to extend the wolf-hunting season in Game Management Unit 19, which encompasses the central and upper Kuskokwim villages of Aniak, Sleetmute and McGrath. The season was lengthened by more than a month, from Aug. 1 to May 31.

The board also raised the bag limit in the same area from 10 wolves a year to 10 wolves a day.

"Part of the harvest isn't about pelts, it's to stop (wolves) from eating those 10 or 12 moose they're going to eat the next year," board member Cliff Judkins of Wasilla said. "They said they've got a wolf problem out there and we're trying to deal with it."

While the issues of pelt quality in May and August and the possibility of shooting wolves in their dens were raised by some board members, testimony from advisory committees and residents who are desperately seeking a way to stop a drastic decline in moose populations in the area overrode those concerns.

"We listened to too many people asking for this," said board member Ted Spraker from Kenai, who told a story about going to Aniak for a meeting last year and seeing signs warning parents not to let their children play outside because several dogs had been eaten by wolves in the village. "I think this is clearly justified."

Lengthening the season caused board chairman Mike Fleagle "a little heartburn." The idea of shooting "a scruffy wolf in August" didn't sit well with Fleagle, who voted against the proposal "to show a level of respect to wolves as a harvestable resource."

"I don't want to be taking wolves when there's no value to them," Fleagle said.

Wolves will also be in their spring dens with pups in May, he said. Even though Natives have traditionally hunted wolves that way, Fleagle questioned if it's a good thing to do in today's politically charged predator control arena. The state is already facing a national tourism boycott as a result of its wolf-control activities.

"There's a whole lot of ethical issues around wolves when they're denning," he said. "In today's day and age it's not entirely acceptable."

Even so, anything the board can do to increase the number of wolves killed will help, Fairbanks board member Sharon McLeod-Everette said.

"What we're talking about is taking wolves out of an area where we're talking about starting predator control," she reminded the board.

The proposal submitted by Aniak hunting guide George Siavelis asked the board to extend the season and increase the bag limit in Units 19A, 19B and 19C. Instead, the board voted to include Unit 19D as well, to make the regulation consistent unit-wide.

"The reason I put it in was for nonresident hunters; there are a lot of bear hunters in the field in May," said Siavelis, who is also asking the board to approve brown bear baiting in the area. "Now my clients just let them run by."

Friday's action could be a prelude to a wolf control plan for all, or at least part of, the central Kuskokwim region. The board appears poised to approve a proposal by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Central Kuskokwim Moose Management Planning Committee that would create a wolf-control plan for a 18,000 square miles in Units 19A and 19B similar to an aerial wolf hunt that is being carried out in neighboring Unit 19D East near McGrath and a land-and-shoot hunt in Unit 13 in the Nelchina Basin.

The game board is already considering another wolf control program in Unit 16B west of Anchorage around Skwentna.

State wildlife biologists have documented a dramatic decline in the moose population in the central Kuskokwim region over the past decade, Toby Boudreau with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in McGrath told the board. At the same time, the wolf population in the area has increased significantly and trappers haven't been able to keep up.

There are about 400 wolves in Units 19A and 19B preying on a moose population estimated to be anywhere from 6,800 to 11,300, though Boudreau says those numbers are optimistic. The population objective is 13,500 to 16,500 moose.

Trappers and hunters take only about 50 to 100 wolves a year. Most predator control programs call for the removal of about 75 percent of the wolf population, Boudreau said. That would translate to about 300 wolves in the two units.

The board didn't take any action on the proposal, choosing instead to have biologists return with more information on the wolf situation in Units 19A and 19B for today's meeting, but it appears the board is sympathetic to the requests of area residents.

"Everyone agrees the real reason we're having all these discussions in (Unit) 19 is because there are an inordinate amount of pressure by predators on a moose population highly utilized by people," board member Pete Buist of Fairbanks said.

In addition to taking steps to reduce predators, the board also reduced hunting pressure in Units 19A and 19B by adopting a proposal that closed a winter moose season in 19A, eliminating nonresident hunting in Unit 19A, reducing the nonresident season in 19B by 10 days and instituting a registration hunt in both units.

While the restrictions were tough for local hunters and guides to swallow, they are willing to do so in exchange for some kind of predator control program, said Mark Matter of Aniak, who represents the Central Kuskokwim Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

"This is long overdue," Matter said. "We've been asking for this for a long time."
The board continues its meeting today at 8:30 a.m. at Wedgewood Resort.

News-Miner reporter Tim Mowry can be reached at tmowry@newsminer.com or at 459-7587.


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