Bill 'a tool' to Manage Wolves
Wolves: Bill Aims to Empower Wildlife Managers
Sen. Ralph Seekins has introduced a bill to make it easier for the state to use aircraft while conducting wolf-kill programs.
The move comes amid renewed proposals to reduce predator numbers in the upper Susitna Valley, in the Nelchina Basin and around McGrath.
Critics called Senate Bill 155 an attempt to override science and popular opinion.
"It's terrible," said Paul Joslin, conservation biologist with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "The voters of Alaska passed ballot measures twice that said they didn't want to use aircraft for same-day airborne hunting of wolves. What Ralph Seekins has done is tried to reverse that."
Other people praised Seekins, a Fairbanks Republican, for giving wildlife managers another way to boost moose and caribou stocks. Regardless of how wolf control occurs and who does it, said McGrath resident and Board of Game member Mike Fleagle, "we'd like to see it done."
Many hunters and rural Alaskans blame wolves for reducing moose and caribou populations in some areas, which has limited subsistence and sport harvests. But attempts to establish wolf control programs have met strong resistance.
A successful tourism boycott in the early 1990s killed one. In 1996, voters banned land-and-shoot hunting. After the Alaska Legislature tinkered with the law in early 2000, voters approved another ballot measure that fall that reiterated their opposition to same-day airborne hunting.
Seekins' bill would not allow airborne sport hunting but would make it easier for the Fish and Game Department to pursue wolf control in approved areas.
The Legislature approve a predator control program in the mid-1990s. But the hurdles written into the law, and former-Gov. Tony Knowles' reluctance to approve wolf control, kept the regulations out of public view, said David James, the Department of Fish and Game's regional game supervisor in Fairbanks.
"It's not like somebody's trying to cook up something that's not already on the books," James said. The department has had authority to conduct airborne and land-and-shoot hunting, but only if certain criteria were met.
"If it all fits that template, bingo, the commissioner can approve it."
Seekins said his measure would make it easier for game managers to put "intensive management" into practice by clarifying what he said are gray areas in the law. For example, the new language specifically permits "airborne or same-day airborne shooting." The existing bill authorizes "shooting from the air."
More important, Seekins said, SB 155 allows managers to make a pre-emptive strike against predators.
Under the existing law, the Board of Game can seek predator control only when the prey population -- generally moose or caribou -- has dropped below previously specified levels. His bill would allow predator control regardless of the prey population.
"It gives you a chance to manage without focusing on just one objective," such as the number of moose around McGrath or caribou around Nelchina, he said.
If the board approves a predator control plan for an area -- it already has for all or parts of hunting units 13, 16 and 19 -- and can convince the commissioner of Fish and Game that wolf numbers should be trimmed, the commissioner could authorize airborne shooting.
"It's not a philosophical game," Seekins said. "It's the constitutional responsibility to manage for sustained yield. All we're saying is give managers a tool to let them manage. Don't tie their hands."
Who would do the shooting is still a question. Though the existing legislation requires the shooting be done by a state employee, "it might be smart to make it employee, agent or permittee," Seekins said.
The intent is to kill the predators "efficiently, effectively and professionally," he said. "My intent is not to turn loose a bunch of wild-eyed guys in a Super Cub."
Game Board member Fleagle and the Alaska Outdoor Council would prefer the hunting be left to the public, Fleagle said.
"If private citizens are given authority under the state, that's just fine," he said. "In reality, there's probably a lot of people who would pay to participate."
Opponents of wolf control say there must be better ways to put more moose into Alaskans' freezers than by shooting wolves from the air, Joslin said.
"What's really needed are better solutions than going after high-controversy stuff -- like working to improve habitat."
He said he doubts state biologists have accurate population estimates in most areas, which makes any decision to kill wolves premature.
And a recent poll by Dittman Research Corp. of Alaska suggests that state residents still don't approve of airborne or land-and-shoot hunting, Joslin said.
"The Legislature ought to be aware their constituents will be very opposed to what they're doing," he said.
Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4310.
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670