Low snow hampers wolf control

Shallow snow prevents pilot-gunner teams from landing to retrieve dead animals

Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The state's aerial predator control program has gotten off to a slow start this winter because of the lack of snow in the Interior.

Only two wolves have been killed in the five areas where the Department of Fish and Game has issued permits to pilot-gunner teams. The wolves were taken in a game management unit west of Anchorage; no wolves have been killed at the four Interior sites.

This is the seventh consecutive year the state has issued permits to pilot-gunner teams to shoot wolves from the air, or to land and shoot them. More than 900 wolves have been taken since 2003, the year when the program to increase moose and caribou herds for hunting went into effect under Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Pilots are required to retrieve dead wolves, but the snow in most places hasn't been deep enough for them to land.

"They're not going to try and kill themselves," Doreen Parker-McNeill, a wildlife biologist, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Besides hampering pilots, the snow conditions this winter prevented biologists in many areas from completing their annual moose population surveys until early December. Hunters in the aerial control program aren't allowed to begin taking wolves until the surveys are complete because biologists use the same surveys to gauge wolf populations.

The lack of fresh snow also makes it difficult to locate wolf tracks and discern fresh tracks from old ones, said Cathie Harms, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

In the Nelchina Basin, where 55 wolves were killed last year, the little snow that has fallen this winter has mostly been blown away. "The high country is just windswept and rough," wildlife biologist Bob Tobey said. "Without any fresh snow, we're stuck."

Though few wolves have been taken, there's still time to catch up. December and January, in fact, are typically the slowest winter months for taking wolves because of lack of daylight. In past years, the majority of wolves have been killed in February, March and April.

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