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State opposes federal decision to not take action on Unimak wolf removal

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to take action regarding wolf removal on Unimak Island, a decision the Alaska Department of Fish & Game opposes. The action would have been to remove wolves from caribou grounds on federal land.

The state says this inaction will be harmful to Unimak’s caribou population while the feds say such removal would go against certain refuge purposes. Wildlife service Spokesman Bruce Woods said the decision to not remove wolves came from analyses of three separate purposes used in decisions that impact refuge land. The purposes are those of subsistence, natural diversity and wilderness character.

Diversity measures go under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the Wilderness Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. Wilderness character goes under the Wilderness Act while subsistence falls under ANILCA.

“We felt the potential for future subsistence was not balanced by impacts to wilderness character and diversity,” Woods said.

Fish & Game officials say the decision to do nothing is harmful to subsistence needs as well as the caribou herd and the wolves. A release states the herd is a designated subsistence resource, yet caribou hunting has been closed so subsistence users there have few red meat alternatives. The state wanted to selectively remove seven wolves from the calving grounds to help restore the herd, which the release states has declined from 1,200 animals to 300 in the last eight years.

“We are obligated by law to manage that herd and all state-owned wildlife resources for the benefit of our citizens. This decision severely limits our options and puts this valuable subsistence resource in even further jeopardy.” ADF&G Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Corey Rossi said in the release. Regional Supervisor Bruce Dale said that hunting will remain closed for years if action is not taken soon.

ADF&G Spokeswoman Cathie Harms said the no-action decision will make the wolf removal less effective, lasting longer with more wolves being killed rather than a select number in the calving grounds.

The release also states Dan Ashe, acting director of the wildlife service, threatened legal action when Fish & Game announced intentions for predator control on Unimak as it had previously done on state lands. Woods said this was because the state was indicating it would go in before the environmental assessment process was completed and would disrupt the appropriate federal process.

Much of this conflict indicates complications regarding state and federal ownership patterns, something Rossi also indicated in the release.

Board of Game Chairman Cliff Judkins also says, “While federal land managers focus on protecting ‘wilderness character,’ the state is charged with managing wildlife on a sustained yield basis for the maximum benefit of Alaskans.”

Judkins also says, “ANILCA requires the federal government to consider subsistence use as the highest priority. I don’t understand how they can turn their backs on subsistence users.”

Rossi states the department will continue exploring options to preserve this caribou herd, saying, “We have an obligation to our citizens to restore this valuable subsistence resource in spite of the lack of federal support.”

Woods said the no-action decision was one of four possibilities that were considered as part of an environmental assessment, with the others covering wolf removal by air or ground with aerial assistance. He said the assessment was published in December and allowed for a 45-day public comment period, during which around 95,000 comments were received but most of them were Internet-driven or solicitations.

He said 3,800 of them appeared substantive and not be identical, and those would have been responded to if an action option had been selected.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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