Wolf control battle escalates

Game board OKs wolf control, but won't meet governor's terms

Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2000

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Board of Game has unanimously approved a wolf control program for the Nelchina basin, a popular hunting area northeast of Anchorage.

But Monday's move was largely symbolic. The plan won't take effect without the support of Gov. Tony Knowles, who has said he won't go along with wolf control unless it meets his terms.

Shortly before the Game Board ended its 10-day meeting in Fairbanks, the governor said he would only act on wolf control if the board took steps to protect wildlife viewing, such as establishing a protective buffer zone next to Denali National Park and Preserve.

The panel refused to approve the buffer Sunday and deferred the idea to a statewide committee on wolf management.

Despite the apparent impasse, Game Board members said they felt compelled to approve a wolf-kill plan for Nelchina.

``I understand that if we pass it, it's just going to sit on the books, but it's our obligation,'' said Mike Fleagle of McGrath, the board's strongest proponent of wolf control.

State Fish and Game biologists told the board the moose population in portions of the Nelchina basin has fallen roughly 25 percent from 1994 to 1998 because of predation by wolves and bears.

About 10,000 people hunt moose and caribou in the Nelchina basin; each year they take about 3,800 caribou and 650 to 1,000 moose.

While approving wolf control, the board voted down several measures to further liberalize brown bear hunting or to establish a bear-kill program for the Nelchina basin.

Board members said brown bear hunting regulations already have been relaxed and might be reducing bear numbers, Fish and Game area biologist Bob Tobey told the Anchorage Daily News.

The board voted to let hunters shoot wolves from moving snowmachines in the Nelchina basin and in three other areas where it has authorized wolf control programs: McGrath, the Tanana Flats near Fairbanks, and around Delta Junction.

Board chairwoman Lori Quakenbush said the board heard opposition to the plan, mostly from out of state.

Many of the letters came from schoolchildren at Willmar Junior High in Willmar, Minn. Another signed by three women in San Francisco said, ``Our vacation plans will certainly not include Alaska unless it ends its unconscionable and cowardly slaughter of wolves and other predators.''

``There wasn't a lot of input and opposition from Alaskans. I don't see why we couldn't approve this,'' Quakenbush said.

Board member Greg Roczicka said people in the Lower 48 don't understand wolf control.

``We don't slaughter all the wolves,'' Roczicka said. ``That's not what it entails. It's holding wolves at a limited level.''

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