Alaska's wolf control hunt off to slow start

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Ten wolves have been killed by aerial gunners this winter in Alaska's predator control program.

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At this time last year, 20 wolves had been killed, said officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The total kill last year ended up at more than 150 wolves.

"February, March and April are the big months," said spokeswoman Cathie Harms. "At this stage, we'd consider where we're at perfectly normal."

The state has issued permits for aerial gunners to shoot wolves from the air or to land and shoot them in five areas of Southcentral Alaska and the Interior. The goal is to boost moose and caribou populations for hunting.

Lack of snow in October and November kept pilots from tracking wolves or landing and shorter days keep most pilots grounded in December and January. High fuel prices also could be keeping pilots on the ground, Harms said.

"A lot of people are waiting for conditions to be better before spending money on (aviation) gas," she said.

During the past four years, including this winter, aerial hunters have reported killing a total of 569 wolves.

In the meantime, two lawsuits filed to stop the state's predator control program are still working their way through the court system.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in November that maintains the program is based on faulty science and violates state law. A similar lawsuit was filed soon after by the Connecticut-based group Friends of Animals and Fairbanks bush pilot Tom Classen.

Michael Grisham, an Anchorage attorney representing Friends of Animals, said he plans to seek a preliminary injunction in the coming week to stop the predator control program.

The organization filed a similar lawsuit last year that put a temporary halt to the program when a judge ruled that the Alaska Board of Game had not followed its own rules in approving the programs and had not considered all alternatives.

The board responded with new regulations that resurrected aerial wolf control in all five areas.

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