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FAIRBANKS - State officials have halted a wolf-culling program in one of five areas allowing aerial shooting, saying enough of the animals have been killed to meet the goal set by the Alaska Board of Game.
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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Tuesday that hunters, trappers and aerial gunners have killed enough wolves in the Nelchina Basin to adequately cut the wolf population in Game Management Unit 13.
Aerial gunners killed 33 wolves in the unit this winter, and another 62 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers for a total harvest of 95 wolves. That number will likely climb higher as hunting and trapping for wolves remains open through April. Hunters and trappers typically take about a dozen wolves in April.
As of Monday, wildlife biologists estimated the spring wolf population in the unit at 162 wolves. The population objective is 135 to 165 wolves.
Biologists predict the population will grow to more than 250 next fall. If that happens, the aerial control program would resume in December.
"We're pretty much into maintenance mode now, where we're basically taking the annual production," Fish and Game spokesman Bruce Bartley said.
This is the second year in a row the estimated wolf population in the unit has been reduced to the state's objective. Last spring, the estimate was 157 after control efforts.
The wolf population there jumped in the 1990s and was estimated as high as 520 in 2001, a level that biologists say caused a more than 50 percent decline in the moose population.
Biologists say the moose population in Unit 13 is rebounding as a result of fewer wolves. The moose population in surveyed sections of the unit is up 14 percent since 2000, and the number of calves has doubled. The number of yearling bulls has more than doubled. Young moose are the primary targets of wolves and bears.
Bull numbers in Unit 13 are up by 45 percent, biologists say, and last fall's harvest of 685 bulls was the highest since 2000. Moose hunting in the unit is limited to bulls only.
In the other four areas that allow aerial shooting of wolves, 55 wolves have been reported killed, bringing to 88 the total number of wolves taken this winter in the predator control program.
That total is far below the state's goal of 680 wolves this year.