FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is expanding the boundaries of a controversial aerial wolf-control program near McGrath.
The decision Tuesday - two days after hunters killed the first wolves near the Interior village - widens the program area from about 1,750 square miles to 3,600 square miles.
"When we came up with the first control zone, it was an educated guess that it would be large enough and it turns out it wasn't," said David James, regional management coordinator with the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, who is overseeing the program.
State wildlife biologists said the five wolf packs that are being targeted by aerial hunters have larger ranges than originally thought. Hunters have consistently been tracking wolves outside the boundary area where they can't shoot them.
The original boundary was put in place to protect moose in a 528-square-mile area known as the "experimental micromanagement area."
The state is trying to eliminate predation on moose to produce more moose for villagers in and around McGrath. More than 80 bears were moved from the same area last spring to reduce bear predation of moose calves.
The McGrath wolf hunt began in November, after the Alaska Board of Game set a limit of 40 wolves. The board instituted a similar but larger plan in a 8,230-square-mile area in the Nelchina Basin south of Fairbanks two months ago to kill 140 wolves.
The hunts have outraged animal rights activists, who are calling for a national tourism boycott against Alaska to protest the program.
The game board, meeting in Fairbanks, held off on a third aerial control program in an area west of Anchorage. Board members plan to revisit the issue later in the 2-week session, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Nearly 90 wolves have been killed in a land-and-shoot hunt in the Nelchina Basin. The first three McGrath wolves were killed Sunday by one of two pilot-gunner teams holding permits to hunt.
Game board members were enthusiastic when they heard that the first wolves had been taken near McGrath.
"I'm glad to see it's finally beginning to work," said Fairbanks board member Pete Buist.
But the head of one of the groups opposed to wolf control in Alaska expressed dismay at the expansion of the control area.
"Now we're up to 3,500 square miles; that's the size of Yellowstone (National Park)," said Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "What's next?"