Game board considers wolf control plan

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2000

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Game is considering approving some kind of wolf control program in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage, but Gov. Tony Knowles hasn't bought into the deal and the governor has the final say.

Knowles has opposed earlier wolf control measures proposed by the board.

Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue said Tuesday the governor probably would want more public feedback before approving a predator control program for the Nelchina basin.

Fish and Game biologists have said caribou and moose populations are steadily declining in the area because of predation by wolves and bears.

The caribou population has dropped from about 50,000 animals in 1995 to around 31,000 now. The moose population is harder to figure. But biologists are concerned because fewer moose calves are surviving bears and wolves.

To protect the caribou and moose, which are in high demand by hunters, Glennallen area biologist Bob Tobey said about three-quarters of the roughly 500 wolves in the area would have to be killed. Brown bears also should be culled but not as drastically, he and other state biologists said.

But predator control critics question the wisdom of trying to stabilize the caribou herds, which fluctuate naturally.

Retired federal biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe said the state may be trying to boost the size of herds beyond what the land can sustain.

The outcome likely will depend upon politics.

Knowles only once has approved a wolf control program, to boost the Fortymile caribou herd by sterilizing and relocating wolves. The governor has said predator control programs in Alaska must be based on sound science, be cost-effective and be accepted by the public.

Alaska has no state-run bear control programs.

Some hunters and board members say it's time for Knowles to rethink his position.

``The pressure is building,'' Fairbanks hunter Bud Burris said.

Burris said he supports the shooting of wolves from airplanes by hunters or agency biologists. He said it's the most humane and effective way of killing wolves, even if it's controversial.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Saxby said Tuesday it may be legal for the board to allow people to shoot wolves from airplanes, according to a new law that was passed by the Legislature last year.

But Dan Elliott, a member of the Matanuska Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he doesn't like that idea, because it goes against the principle of fair chase.

Whatever the case, aerial wolf control might not be viable politically. Given the controversial history of predator control in the state, Wayne Regelin, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said it's not clear that the public would sanction the state killing of wolves in the Nelchina basin.

Predator control critics organized a tourism boycott after the state's wolf killing program came under fire in 1992. Alaska voters in 1996 approved an initiative banning hunters from shooting wolves on the same day they fly in an airplane and restricting state wolf control programs.

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