Board delays decision about wolf pup killing

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Game deferred a decision on whether to allow residents along the Kuskokwim River to kill wolf pups in their dens.

The game board decided to make no decision on the proposal put forth by the Orutsaramuit Native Council in Bethel and the local advisory committee, but to take it up again at its meeting in Juneau in November.

The seven-person board, responsible for developing state regulations on animal management, finished up several days of meetings in Anchorage on Monday.

Greg Roczicka, Orutsaramuit's natural resources director, did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, describing the practice as "barbaric," said the board's decision to further consider it is troubling.

"It signals to me that there is sentiment to seriously consider this proposal," he said.

Proponents says the killing of wolf pups is needed because the area around Aniak and McGrath in interior Alaska used to be some of the best moose hunting around, but has fallen off in recent years because wolves and bears are killing too many moose.

Proponents argue that the practice of killing wolf pups in their dens is traditional. The proposal says that societal standards imported from outside Alaska concerning what is "sportsmanship" or "fair chase" resulted in the practice being banned. When it was in use, it helped maintain healthier moose and caribou populations, the proposal says.

Defenders of Wildlife, as well as other opponents, spoke out against the proposal.

"I told the board that the practice of denning completely exceeds the bounds of acceptable policy and modern-day wildlife management in this state. Killing the young of any species when they are most vulnerable will never gain any degree of broad public acceptance," said Tom Banks, Defenders' Alaska representative.

The state already is conducting wolf control in game management unit 19A near Aniak and McGrath. The five-year program was initiated in July 2004. In the first two seasons of the program, between 71 and 76 wolves were killed by trapping and aerial shooting.

However, numbers last season fell to just 10 because there was little fresh show to track the animals.

State biologists say moose density estimates in the area increased between 2004 and 2006, but no density estimates were obtained last winter because of poor survey conditions.

A calf survey done last May also showed a robust 64 percent moose twinning rate, suggesting that the moose population in the area is beginning to grow, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Toppenberg said the state needs to do is realize the program is not working.

"Point of fact, fewer moose have been taken in the area rather than more. It indicates to me the program is not working," he said.

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