ANCHORAGE - Several wolves were likely killed illegally by a private pilot who shot the animals from the air or shortly after landing outside an aerial predator control area, Alaska State Troopers said.
A trooper with the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement saw ski-plane tracks near wolf tracks in the snow during a routine late-March patrol in the Swift River drainage south of McGrath, said troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson. A two-day investigation uncovered several wolf-kill sites, he said.
While the wolf hunting season is open in that area until April 30, carcasses found on the ground suggest the wolves were killed in violation of the state's same-day-airborne hunting prohibition. State law forbids hunting most species, including wolves, on the same day the hunter has been airborne. Federal law makes it illegal to hunt any animal from an airplane.
Troopers have identified one suspect and seized a Super Cub, but they would not provide any additional information Thursday, saying the investigation is incomplete.
While the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting a predator-control program around McGrath, the kill sites are well south of it, Wilkinson said.
The state program, approved by the Alaska Board of Game last fall, seeks to eliminate wolves in a 3,300-square-mile area surrounding McGrath to help the moose population rebound. Fish and Game issued permits to several pilot-gunner teams to participate. The permits are valid only within the program area.
To date, 20 of the estimated 40 wolves in the control area have been killed by the pilot-gunner teams, said Toby Boudreau, Fish and Game's biologist in McGrath.
Another 11 wolves have been killed by trappers, he said. The trapping season and the wolf-control permits both end April 30.