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ANCHORAGE - After approving a predator control plan targeting wolves and bears around McGrath, and then proposing land-and-shoot wolf hunting in the Nelchina Basin, the Alaska Board of Game set its sights on wolves across Cook Inlet from Anchorage.
The board on Friday approved a wolf kill plan for unit 16B, which extends from Skwentna to Tyonek, and said hunters there could kill wolves by shooting them from stopped snowmachines. Such hunting is illegal in that area now.
To further expand the tools for killing predators, the board also asked the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game to issue permits to let hunters shoot wolves from helicopters or airplanes, or to practice so-called land-and-shoot wolf hunting.
Both methods are usually illegal. But board members, acting on legal advice from Fish and Game, said the commissioner could allow the practice if it is done in the name of predator control.
The day before, the board had asked the commissioner to allow the same thing in the Nelchina basin, a popular hunting unit northeast of Anchorage.
Wolf control critics said the board is moving at a dizzying pace to launch a statewide war on predators.
"How much more extreme can you get?" asked Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
But those in favor of predator control said the board is finally moving in the right direction.
Board members and hunters have said repeatedly over the last week that moose populations have dropped to very low levels in many parts of the state. In unit 16B, for example, biologists estimate the moose population has dropped from about 7,400 in 1990 to about 3,800 in 2001.
The goal is to have 6,500 to 7,000 moose in that area so people can take up to 600 animals a year.
"Every tool will help us get this back in balance," said Duane Goodrich of Palmer, a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
Goodrich favors any method to cut back on predators, including using snowmachines or hunting from the air, even though such practices are criticized as going against the principle of fair chase.
"I don't believe in fair chase for vermin," Goodrich said.
Whether any of the programs moves forward is still up to the governor and the commissioner. The governor has not filled the commissioner position.
Gov. Frank Murkowski's spokesman, John Manly, said the governor prefers permitting hunters to shoot wolves using aircraft rather than pay Fish and Game agents to shoot wolves from helicopters or airplanes.
A legal challenge may be made to allowing public hunting of wolves from aircraft. In a 1996 statewide ballot initiative and again in a 2000 referendum, voters essentially banned land-and-shoot wolf hunting statewide. Backers of those measures said the board is trying to circumvent those votes.
Former game board member Joel Bennett of Juneau, a backer of the original initiative, said the measure was specifically crafted to let only department agents kill wolves from the air for predator control.
"It baffles me that they are now arguing that (the law) allows it," he said.