Aerial Wolf Control Programs Wind Down for Season

RESULTS: State reports 147 animals were killed in McGrath, Nelchina areas

Mary Pemberton / AP / Anchorage Daily News / April 28, 2004

A state-sponsored program in which aircraft are used to hunt wolves as part of an effort to increase moose numbers in two areas of Alaska is winding down for the season.

Under the aerial wolf control program, 147 wolves have been killed in the McGrath and Nelchina Basin areas -- short of the state's goal of about 180 wolves.

The seasonal program ends Friday and will start up again next fall or winter.

"We are pleased with the results of the programs this season," Kevin Duffy, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said Wednesday. "Through the diligence of our staff in administering the programs established by the Board of Game, along with the localized control efforts to reduce predation, we are a step closer to providing adequate moose harvests in areas where Alaskans depend on moose for food."

Two animal rights groups had harsh words Wednesday for Duffy and the program.

"We find the program reprehensible," said Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, which has organized more than 150 gatherings nationwide to protest the Alaska program. "We are committed to another reign of protest when the program starts up again next winter."

Karen Deatherage, spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage, said it's hard to square Duffy's statement with two ballot measures approved by Alaska voters in 1996 and 2000 banning land-and-shoot wolf hunting.

"I find it hard to believe any government official in this state would be pleased with the result of a program that goes against the will of Alaska voters," Deatherage said.

The state Board of Game approved the program for the McGrath area last fall in response to residents' longtime complaints that predators were killing too many moose calves. Under the program where hunter and pilot teams could shoot wolves from the air, 40 wolves were to be shot. Half that number were killed in the McGrath area.

The program fell short of its goal largely because the weather around McGrath, particularly early on, was not conducive to hunting wolves.

The board authorized a second wolf control program in the Nelchina Basin area near Glennallen. That program was structured differently, with pilots required to land their planes first before the wolves were shot. The program, with a goal of taking 135 to 150 wolves, also fell short. As of Tuesday, 127 wolves had been reported killed, Fish and Game said.

Feral said what the Game Board is implementing its blueprint for wolf control for the entire state. Alaska's wolf population is estimated at between 7,700 and 11,200 animals.

"We see it as a routine extermination plan that will continue for years," she said.

The Game Board, at a meeting in March, approved wolf control for two more areas of the state, one in the central Kuskokwim area in western Alaska and the other west of Anchorage across Cook Inlet in Southcentral Alaska.

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