Wolf Control Tallied



Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 14, 2004


The number of wolves killed in two predator control programs this winter is up to 114 while the number of protest letters, postcards and e-mails sent to Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's office from the Lower 48 is more than 50,000.

But the head of a national animal-rights group that has organized a tourism boycott of Alaska over the state's wolf-control activities accused Murkowski's administration of skewing the amount of protest mail. As of Friday morning, the governor's office reported it had received only 14,376 letters and postcards from protesters and 36,739 e-mails.

"That's total bunk," said Priscilla Feral, president of Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, when told of the mail numbers. "I can tell you we have sent 80,000 (letters and postcards) that we know.

"I think the veracity of what you're hearing could be challenged," she said. To which Murkowski spokesman John Manly responded, "Does she want to come here and count them herself?"

Friends of Animals began its tourism boycott in late December and the organization has held more than 100 "howl-ins" in cities across the Lower 48 in an effort to bring attention to the wolf-control issue in Alaska.

In addition to mail and e-mail protesting the state's wolf-control programs, the state has received 85 letters or postcards in support and 111 e-mails in favor of killing wolves.

While Feral questions the volume of protest mail reported by the state, Manly said it's a sign that the tourism boycott isn't producing the same kind of reaction a similar boycott did 12 years ago when the state received upwards of 200,000 protest letters and postcards.

"I think people are beginning to see through this," Manly said of the tourism boycott. "They look at the rest of the issues in the world and put them in perspective and think, 'Gosh, maybe shooting a few wolves in Alaska isn't that big a deal.'"

So far, aerial hunters have killed 103 wolves in Game Management Unit 13 in the Nelchina Basin near Glennallen and 11 wolves in Game Management Unit 19D East near McGrath.

The state is hoping to remove 140 wolves from the Nelchina Basin and 40 from the McGrath area in order to stop a decline in the moose populations of both areas. The Alaska Board of Game approved aerial hunts for both areas a few months ago. Pilot-gunner teams in McGrath are allowed to shoot wolves from the air or to land and shoot them, while hunters in the Nelchina Basin are allowed only to land and shoot.

While only five permits have been issued for the McGrath hunt--three of which are active--the state has issued more than 30 permits to pilots and hunters in Unit 13.

All 11 wolves taken in Unit 19D east have been killed in the past two weeks. While the size of the control area near McGrath was doubled a little over a week ago to 3,500 square miles, most of the wolves taken in that hunt were killed in the original control zone of 1,700 square miles, McGrath state wildlife biologist Toby Boudreau said.

"Conditions are just better," he said. "We've had several small snowfalls and we've got more light and warmer conditions."

Fresh snow makes it easier to track wolves, which has been a problem in the Nelchina hunt.

"Without any fresh snow, there are no tracks," Glennallen state wildlife biologist Bob Tobey said. "Now we're getting warmer days and we're getting that freeze-thaw at night and in the day.

"Once they get a windblown crust they can walk on, it gets pretty tough to find tracks."

Hunting wolves gets harder this time of year, too, because packs begin to disperse for the mating season, said Bruce Bartley at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.

"Packs are breaking up at this time of year," Bartley said. "It's going to be harder to get into a big pack."

After almost two months of hunting, wolves are also getting conditioned to avoid planes, he said.

"Once these guys have been shot at, they get smarter," Bartley said. "They spend lot more time in the woods than in the open when they hear a plane."

Weather will determine how long the hunts near Glennallen and McGrath last. While permits run through April 30, Tobey said the hunt in the Nelchina Basin won't last that long because the snow will melt soon. Pilots must use skis on their planes to land and shoot wolves, and to pick up any animals they kill.

"A lot of permitees live in Palmer and Wasilla and they lose their airstrips at home," Tobey said. "Once their strips melt at home they're done."

Manly said Murkowski doesn't pay much attention to the volume of protest mail, though it is being tracked on a daily basis and the governor is updated periodically.

"He's got other bigger fish on his plate," Manly said. "He's said what his position is and where he stands on it. Now he's left it in the hands with the Board of Game."

Feral used the word "horror" to describe recent actions taken by the game board during a two-week meeting in Fairbanks that ended Wednesday.

The game board approved two more wolf-control programs that will start this fall in western Cook Inlet and the central Kuskokwim region, as well as a possible bear predation program near Tok.

Feral also was appalled that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to target moose calves as part of an antlerless moose hunt on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks to curb a growing population.

"It's worse than a disgrace," Feral said. "To say you've got to knock wolves and knock down bears and now shoot moose calves makes them look crazy."


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



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