Committee Asks for Review of Wolf Regulations


Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee puts together group to consider solutions to problems on Douglas Island

Eric Fry / Juneau Empire / March 11, 2004



The Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee agreed Wednesday to ask the state Board of Game to review a regulation that restricts hunting and trapping wolves on Douglas Island.

The Game Board will meet in Juneau from Nov. 2-5 to consider Southeast issues. The board, appointed by Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski since Democrat Tony Knowles left office, has supported aerial hunting of wolves in the Interior to preserve moose populations for hunters.

Meanwhile, the advisory committee put together a group of its members and the public to consider a more manageable solution.

At its meeting in Juneau in November 2002, the Game Board prohibited hunting and trapping wolves on Douglas until state biologists estimate there are at least seven wolves there. Seven is the average size of a Southeast wolf pack. No more than 30 percent of the wolves could be hunted or trapped a year under that provision.

The new regulation also said hunting and trapping will be reopened if there are wolves on the island and hunters' harvest of deer over two succeeding years falls more than 35 percent from the average of the preceding 10 years, assuming the same hunting effort. At that point, state biologists would decide how many wolves could be hunted or trapped.

Some deer hunters fear that protecting wolves would lead to a growing population that depletes the deer in a popular, accessible hunting area. Hunters kill about 300 deer on the island each year, state biologists said, although the harvest has been near 200 in some recent years.

The board's action in 2002 was provoked by public concern that a trapper had killed seven wolves, believed by some to be an entire pack and perhaps all the wolves on the island.

But critics have said the regulation amounts to a perpetual ban because the state Department of Fish and Game doesn't have the capacity to accurately estimate the number of wolves on Douglas.

Carl Rosier, representing the 1,200-member outdoors group Territorial Sportsmen, said Fish and Game can't manage the regulation.

"They haven't got the manpower and they don't have the money," said Rosier, a former Fish and Game commissioner.

He also said the 35-percent provision, related to the decline in the deer harvest, would allow three years of wolf predation on deer before Fish and Game had the flexibility to implement a program to harvest wolves.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Neil Barten agreed it would be difficult for the agency to estimate or monitor the number of wolves on Douglas because the dense forest makes it impossible to see them from the air, and biologists would need good snow cover to track them on the ground and the manpower to cover the island.

Joel Bennett of Juneau, a member of the Game Board in 2002, said the regulation was intended as a compromise between deer hunters and wildlife viewers.

"There's no question that this is an imprecise solution to recognize a diversity of interests," he told the advisory committee.

"We're asking for an area in our backyard to see wildlife in," said Nathan Peimann, a Juneau resident.

Members of Voices for Douglas Island Wildlife, a group of about 180 members and supporters, formed in 2002 over the issue. On Wednesday, they asked the advisory committee to take no action on its draft proposal to ask the Game Board to rescind the regulation. They said the advisory committee should represent the community, but Juneau is split on the issue.

The advisory committee's action Wednesday isn't likely to be the Game Board's only inkling of the issue. Any citizen or group is entitled to submit proposals to the board, and the board may take up the issue on its own anyway, committee members said.

Also on Wednesday, the advisory committee declined to consider asking the Game Board to rescind or clarify a regulation, set in 2002, that protects white-colored black bears in Juneau from being hunted.

Local resident Pat Costello's August 2002 photographs of a rare white-colored black bear were publicized on his Web site and became the subject of worldwide media coverage.

Committee chairwoman Kathy Hansen said it wasn't clear what "white" referred to and the rule can't be enforced. But committee members said they had enough issues on their plate.

Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

 


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