ANCHORAGE - The state is offering incentives for people who kill wolves in an effort to boost Alaska's predator control program, which so far has failed to meet expected numbers.
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"Several factors have led to a low wolf take this winter, so we're going to step up our efforts to meet the annual objectives in this important program," Commissioner Denby Lloyd with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement Wednesday.
The program, now in its fourth year and operating in five areas of the state, is designed to increase moose and caribou numbers by reducing the number of predators.
The incentives include offering 180 volunteer pilots and aerial gunners $150 in cash for turning in legs of freshly killed wolves, Gov. Sarah Palin's office announced Tuesday.
The state will use the left forelegs of wolves as biological specimens, which can help biologists determine wolf age and will assist the program in the future, Lloyd said.
Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group opposed to the predator control program, said it was outraged by Palin's decision.
"Bounties have no place in modern wildlife management and undoubtedly would lead to the illegal killing of wolves," Karla Dutton, director of the group's Alaska office, said in a statement.
Previously, the only reward was a wolf pelt they could sell, usually for somewhere between $200 and $300, Bruce Bartley, Department of Fish and Game spokesman, told the Anchorage Daily News.
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The Palin administration is anteing up cash because the number of wolf kills this winter is behind schedule. State biologists wanted 382 to 664 wolves killed by the time the snow that helps with tracking disappears this spring. The predator-control season ends April 30.
As of Tuesday morning, 98 wolves had been killed by aerial gunners, hunters and trappers.
Pilots have complained that fuel prices are too high to fly and there hasn't been enough snow on the ground to track the elusive animals, said Matt Robus, Division of Wildlife Conservation director. There are also fewer wolves to kill now because of kills in past years, he said.
More than 600 wolves have been killed under the program. The state estimates there are between 7,000 and 11,000 wolves in Alaska.
The Board of Game recently urged Palin to let state staff shoot wolves from helicopters.
Shooting from helicopters that hover close to packs would be more deadly and humane than from the airplanes that are currently allowed, board members have said.
Palin has asked Fish and Game officials to charter helicopters only as a last resort.
The governor prefers cash incentives because they are less expensive than renting helicopters, and the income helps families where the wolf killing occurs, Leighow said.
The state also plans to share information with program volunteers on where the wolves have been spotted.