Wolf killing ban in question

Juneau game board to decide whether to drop protections for white bear, Douglas wolves

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2004

Protections for wolves on Douglas Island and for a white bear seen near Juneau likely will be reconsidered when the state Board of Game takes up Southeast issues in the fall.

The Juneau-Douglas Advisory Committee to the Department of Fish and Game may ask the Game Board to rescind its earlier rulings. Even if it doesn't, citizens may make similar proposals, said Neil Barten, the state's wildlife biologist in Juneau.

The Game Board sets rules for hunting and trapping on state and private land and some federal lands in Alaska.

The Game Board, meeting in Juneau in November 2002 with one member absent, unanimously banned hunting and trapping of wolves on Douglas Island until the wolf population has built up or the number of bagged deer drastically declines. The panel also forbade the hunting of white-colored black bears in the Juneau area.

Some residents had appealed to the board to let the wolf population on Douglas recover after seven wolves on the back side of the island were trapped early in 2002.

Some residents also sought protection for a rare white-coated black bear photographed near Juneau in August 2002. Local resident Pat Costello's photographs of the white bear were publicized on his Web site and became the subject of worldwide media coverage.

But it's a different Game Board that will meet in Juneau from Nov. 2 to 5 this year to consider Southeast issues. The board, appointed by Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski since Democrat Tony Knowles left office a year ago, has supported aerial hunting of wolves in the Interior to preserve moose populations for hunters.

The local advisory committee, which met Wednesday night, is still trying to decide whether it is appropriate to sponsor proposals on the sensitive subjects of rescinding the Douglas wolf and white bear regulations, Chairwoman Kathy Hansen said.

Local resident Gary Miller told the committee that wolves eat too many deer.

"Douglas Island cannot support a wolf pack and deer," he said. "There is no need to protect wolves on Douglas Island. There's a healthy population on the mainland. ... If the wolves stay protected, the deer will all be killed off and the wolves will starve or move off."

Douglas resident Leon Shaul said few people hunt deer on the mainland near Juneau. But 600 to 800 people hunt on Douglas Island.

"Douglas is quite a resource we should protect for the community for that use," he told the committee.

Fish and Game doesn't know how many wolves live on Douglas Island, wildlife biologist Barten said in an interview. The population can walk across Gastineau Channel at low tide.

Although a state survey of hunters hasn't been completed, Barten said his impression is that the latest hunting season went well.

"I think everybody who hunted Douglas, in general, had pretty good success and saw a lot of deer," Barten said.

The controversy over the Douglas Island wolf regulations "is a value-driven issue," Barten said. "Some people just don't think you should be killing them. Others think (the presence of wolves) will affect their hunting and they don't want it around."

Proponents of the current rules include Voices for Douglas Island Wildlife, a group that formed over the wolf issue and claims 150 supporters.

Under the rules imposed in 2002, "wolves would be managed so deer-hunting would be guaranteed," the group's representative, Tom Lee, told the committee. The current rules don't deny any user group, he said.

Local resident Richard Gard, who favors the current rules, said he has hunted, hiked and skied on Douglas Island for 42 years and hasn't been fortunate enough seen a wolf.

"I would gladly trade a deer for a glimpse of a wolf," he said. "Predators are an important part of a balanced ecosystem."

The committee will take more testimony at its meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the second-floor conference room at the Fish and Game headquarters on Eighth Street, off Egan Drive near the Douglas Bridge.

The panel didn't discuss the white bear issue Wednesday. But Barten said the current rule is hard to enforce because it isn't clear what constitutes a white bear.

"White is kind of a subjective thing," he said.

The coats of black bears can vary from reddish to light colorings, including yellowish. And a light coat will look different in different lighting conditions, or even if the bear has rolled in mud, he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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