Wolf attack raises predator questions

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

The following editorial appeared in the May 2 edition of the Voice of The (Anchorage) Times:

While biologists try to ascertain why an apparently healthy, 77-pound wolf attacked a 6-year-old boy near a Yakutat logging camp, we are left to wonder why predator control opponents have been silent.

Those inalterably opposed to thinning wolf populations under virtually any circumstance will tell you that this kind of thing simply is not supposed to happen. Wolves do not attack humans, they say, and nobody is sure they are responsible for major declines in moose or caribou numbers.

Many who live near the wolves see it differently.

In early February, at a summit on wildlife management, rural residents, especially those from McGrath, were specific and vocal about their worries. They said they feared ever-bolder wolves eventually would injure or kill a child and that the wolves' increased population was responsible for drastic declines in moose numbers. They were angry that the Knowles administration was balking at predator control.

On Feb. 23, in hours of testimony before the joint Senate-House Resources committees hearing on McGrath wildlife management, those residents, and others, again expressed the same fears and frustrations.

But those misgivings were pooh-poohed by predator control opponents. Wolf attacks are unlikely, they said. There is no conclusive evidence that wolves are responsible for moose declines, they said. People who fear wolves are just being emotional, they said.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, joined by Sens. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican; Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat; and Al Adams, a Kotzebue Democrat, sponsored Senate Bill 267 to address rural residents' concerns. The measure would allow a person flying in an aircraft to ``land and shoot'' wolves on the same day - but only within ``intensive'' game management areas specifically designated for predator control.

And contrary to hysterical press accounts that the measure would ``all but overturn'' a 1996 citizens' initiative to ban same-day airborne hunting, the Board of Game is unlikely to approve widespread predator control in intensive game management areas. Currently, about 5 percent of the state is involved in such control efforts.

The measure passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Tony Knowles on April 17. That veto rightly was overridden April 21 in a 42-17 vote, with one legislator excused.

Nobody wants to see Alaska's wolves slaughtered. They are part of what makes this state wild and beautiful. On the other hand, it would be wise to acknowledge that people come first, that in special circumstances, in certain areas, it may be necessary to implement limited, temporary and tightly regulated predator control.

To oppose any kind of predator control, especially now, is to continue ignoring the obvious.

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