Predator control program OK'd for southern Alaska Peninsula

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Board of Game has approved a predator control program on the southern Alaska Peninsula to help a declining caribou herd.

Board chairman Cliff Judkins said if the board didn't act now, the herd could disappear.

Officials say the herd has declined dramatically. It's currently counted at 600 animals, down from a high of 10,000 caribou in 1983.

The board approved removing wolves near the southern Alaska Peninsula calving grounds. The department will use a helicopter to locate and kill about 25 wolves from two to four packs in the area.

The seven-member board deferred several other proposals dealing with predator control to future meetings and tabled another until later in this meeting, which runs through Monday.

Part of the reason the game board has set aside proposals dealing with predator control is a ballot initiative in August in which Alaskans will vote on whether to shoot down the state's aerial wolf control programs, which are being carried out by private pilots and gunners with permits from the state. The initiative would allow only Department of Fish and Game personnel to shoot wolves in "biological emergencies." Similar initiatives were passed by Alaskan voters in 1996 and 2000.

There's no sense in creating new predator control areas if those areas will be eliminated in six months, board members said.

It was for that reason that the board voted Wednesday to defer a proposal to implement a new predator control program in Unit 21E on the lower Yukon River to its November meeting. The board also voted to table a proposal to terminate the aerial predator control program around McGrath until later in the meeting.

That move came after the board's legal expert, Kevin Saxby, instructed the board to discuss the arguments in the proposal in detail on the record in the event of a lawsuit.

Tom Banks, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, which submitted proposals to terminate three of the state's aerial wolf control programs due to lack of adequate data, said the predator control areas identified by the department are too big and more scientific information is needed to justify the programs. The department has relied on inadequate biological data, as well as anecdotal accounts, to institute the programs and doesn't have the money to compile adequate data, he said.

"The areas (the state) has identified for predator control are too large to manage properly, and the department hasn't been given the money to conduct the kind of research that will truly show these programs are justified," said Banks, who is attending the Fairbanks meeting. "The data is lacking, and where the data is lacking there's not the public support."

The pending ballot initiative also is part of the reason why the game board deferred controversial proposals on killing bears and wolves in their dens to the same meeting.

"No one knows how this initiative is going to unfold," said board member Ted Spraker, who is from Soldotna. "If the department loses the ability to manage wolves using aerial shooters, these may be some of the tools we keep in place."

But chairman Cliff Judkins said it wasn't just the looming initiative that prompted the board to defer the proposals to allow the killing of bears and wolves in their dens, a practice that has long been used by Natives in the Koyukuk River country.

"The reason we want to keep bear denning on the table is because it's a customary and traditional method used by Alaska Natives for years," Judkins said. "We ought to pay attention to these traditions and allow it where we can.

"It doesn't have to be about predator control."

The game board also rejected several proposals that would have allowed bear trapping in some Interior game management units, though Judkins asked the department to provide a more in-depth study on bear trapping at its November meeting in Juneau.

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