Game Board backs wolf, bear control near McGrath

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Game voted unanimously Wednesday to kill wolves and move brown and black bears from a 520-square mile area near McGrath.

A final decision on the predator control plan will come from the acting commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game and Gov. Frank Murkowski.

The experiment of up to four years is designed to remove predators so moose numbers increase. The plan also calls for a ban on resident hunting in the area, already off-limits to nonresident hunters.

Board members voted for the plan despite a threatened tourism boycott by a national animal rights organization, Friends of Animals. Alaska wildlife groups also objected and accused Murkowski of packing the board with pro-hunting advocates. Six of the seven board members were appointed by Murkowski, elected in November.

Board members in their decision cited pleas from McGrath-area residents and state law that calls for intensive game management.

"We've got a constitutional mandate and the people of McGrath are suffering right now because they don't have enough food on their table," said Ted Spraker of Kenai.

The board since 1995 has determined that human consumptive use was the preferred use of moose in the McGrath area, about 225 miles northwest of Anchorage. The Knowles administration blocked wolf killing in the area.

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, said from the group's national headquarters in Darien, Conn., that she was "horrified but not surprised" at the board's action.

She said only former state Rep. Ben Grussendorf of Sitka, appointed by former Gov. Tony Knowles, could be considered independent. Other board members were appointed because they support killing wolves, she said.

Feral, who testified before the board last week, said her group has an Alaska attorney determining if a predator control program could be blocked in court. The call for a tourism boycott is on hold until Murkowski gives the OK to begin killing wolves. She said she hoped tourism groups would pressure him not to bring a "public relations disaster and shame to Alaska."

Paul Joslin, spokesman for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said the board used old data in its animal counts. More recent numbers indicate the moose population is stable and perhaps even increasing slightly.

He said his calculations show the cost of the predator control program would be about $5,000 per moose. He questioned whether there might be other means of providing moose meat for village tables.

"What about other moose opportunities in other areas? What about moose that are killed by the railroad or the highway?" Joslin said.

The Department of Fish and Game estimates up to 34 wolves remain in the area after trapping removed 13.

Biologists say predator control may protect moose calves during their first two months of life. Wolves and bears kill up to 60 percent of moose calves.

Just more than 100 calves survive, replacing the 98 or so adult moose killed in roughly equal numbers by human hunters and predators and keeping the number of yearling and adult moose at about 490.

Biologists say the area has about one moose per square mile. The board's objective for the affected area is 3,000 to 3,500 moose with hunters taking 130 to 150 animals a year.

At the hearing last week, voices ran 2-1 in favor of predator control, with strong support from villagers in McGrath, Takotna, Nikolai and Telida who depend on moose meat.

Board members said they discussed the possible tourism boycott. Spraker and Sharon McLeod-Everette said there was a lot of sentiment that it was unconscionable for someone from outside the state to threaten Alaskans.

Board member Cliff Judkins of Wasilla said he had a mandate from the governor when he was appointed to make decisions that would renew the faith of the villagers in the management process.

"I think that's what we did here," he said.

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