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Wolf control, high-flying hunters and you

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007

Just when I was about to charter a plane and shoot a wolf ...Back in March, the state publicized its predator control program in response to fears about the delicious but dwindling moose population. Spokesmen announced that hunter-and-pilot teams could get $150 for each wolf killed if the leg foreleg was turned in. The legs would provide useful data for biologists.

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The cash was supposed to help pay for the hunters' time and airplane fuel. About 190 pilot-and-gunner teams received permits, and they killed at least 73 wolves from the sky.

Horrified conservationists sued.

On Friday, a state Superior Court judge halted Alaska's $150 bounty for each wolf killed under the program. Conservation groups praised the decision granting their request for a temporary stop to the payments.

Was it a victory for decency? Yes, we should all be thrilled. And yet, somewhere above us, an airborne man with an automatic rifle is weeping.

Who really won?

Killing animals from a perch in a flying machine is about much more than money.

It's about valuing animals so highly that you're willing to execute one or two when necessary. It's about wanting to study the wolves so much that you're willing to give their left arm for the chance.

In short, it's about what's best for the animals.

Perhaps we must shoot them from a plane to keep from shooting more of them from a plane.

But saving the wolves is about so much more than killing them. It's about leaving the weak to starve after their stronger brethren stuff themselves on the shrinking stock of moose.

It's about controlling them - by leaving them alone.

After the state program went public, people started arguing.

Much of the debate centered on whether the wolf population is closer to the top of the state's estimate, 11,000, or at the bottom of the feds' estimate, 6,000.

Somewhere in between lies the perfect number of wolves, beyond which each individual poses a threat to moose and the future of Alaska. The danger is so extreme that its only fix is a man strafing the landscape.

Wow. I'd hate to be at the wrong end of that calculus. What if one of the scientists was distracted at the office, and made a little counting mistake?

Happens to me all the time. Just the other day, I underestimated the amount of bread my wife and I would need for a week's worth of sandwiches.

She almost put me down for the sake of conservation. I wouldn't have held it against her. But maybe I should reconsider.

As for the wolves, let them eat moose. If we need to determine the exact number of moose to be spared, we can always borrow a biologist from the state predator control program.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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