Wolf control action may have to wait until next winter

State officials have little time to implement governor's wolf control plan this season

Posted: Monday, February 03, 2003

FAIRBANKS - The state could have to wait until next winter to reduce wolf populations, one of Gov. Frank Murkowski's campaign pledges.

Winter is the best time for predator control, said David James, regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Fairbanks. But with only a few months of winter left, the state will have to act fast if it wants to kill any wolves, which likely would be done from planes or helicopters.

"If the governor wants to do any real intensive control work, it requires snow on the ground," said James.

A decision would involve the state Board of Game, which just got new members, and the commissioner of the Fish and Game Department, who has yet to be named.

During his campaign, Murkowski said he would pursue predator management as a way to boost moose and caribou populations for hunters. He repeated that theme earlier this month when he named six new members to the Board of Game, all hunters and trappers who favor predator management.

"We've been talking about it with the governor," said Wayne Regelin, outgoing director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Nothing has been decided yet."

But with Murkowski at the helm, it's not really a matter of whether the state will kill wolves, and perhaps even bears, it's more a matter of when.

"They (the Murkowski administration) are interested in looking at some predator management," said Matt Robus, deputy director for the game division under Regelin. "We're kind of standing by."

Former Gov. Tony Knowles called a halt to the state's wolf-control program shortly after he took office in 1994 and refused to authorize the killing of any wolves during his eight years in office, though he did approve sterilization and relocation of wolves as part of the Fortymile Caribou Herd Management Plan.

Two predator control plans have been approved by previous game boards, one for an area near McGrath and the other for the Nelchina Basin. Both involve reducing wolf and bear numbers to increase moose and caribou numbers.

Regelin said more work needs to be done in the Nelchina area before the state can consider killing predators there, but a plan for McGrath is pretty much in place if that's the direction the governor chooses to go.

The commissioner of Fish and Game has the authority to implement either plan.

But Murkowski has yet to name a commissioner, in large part because it wasn't until two weeks ago that he filled the game board with six new members. He named four new members to the fish board two weeks earlier.

Those boards play a major role in the selection of a commissioner by providing the governor with a list of applicants.

The two boards are compiling and submitting a list, which the governor should get within a few days, said Murkowski spokesman John Manly.

"I would hope it's just a matter of a few weeks" before a permanent commissioner is selected, Manly said.

The game board probably will examine the two predator control plans that are on the books and make a recommendation to the new commissioner, Manly said.

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