FAIRBANKS - Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue urged the Alaska Board of Game to adopt a series of proposals that could lead to the killing of wolves in the McGrath area.
Rue spoke to the board Sunday in Fairbanks, where the panel held a special meeting to deal with wolf control and protection issues.
Rue called for the adoption of a series of proposals that would authorize a tiered approach to predator control around McGrath. Residents of the Interior community have complained for several years that wolves have decimated the moose population, which locals rely on for food.
The plan restricts moose hunting and encourages locals to kill more bears and wolves as biologists continue to study the problem. If research shows those measures aren't doing enough and that wolves are causing the moose population to decline, aerial shooting of wolves could start as soon as next winter.
Rue also asked the board to approve a larger no-hunting, no-trapping buffer zone around Denali National Park and Preserve to protect two widely viewed wolf packs.
"It will make it easier to sell wolf control," Rue said, if the public sees the board balancing the interests of hunters and wildlife watchers. "These two issues are important, and they are both right."
The Game Board has attempted for years to get some sort of wolf control for McGrath, to build up the number of moose in the area. Gov. Tony Knowles has blocked those efforts, saying any wolf control program must be publicly acceptable. Now Knowles thinks he has a plan - crafted over the past year by a task force he appointed - that people will accept.
Many hunters at Sunday's meeting said they were happy to see progress on predator control but thought they were giving up too much. One part of the plan throws out intensive game management objectives the board established at the direction of the Legislature. Instead of 6,000 to 8,000 moose in the McGrath area, Knowles' task force said 3,000 would be a realistic target. The plan also cuts the annual harvest objective in half, to about 150 moose.
Wayne Regelin, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said a higher moose goal would require the state to wage "wholesale war" against wolves. That would not be acceptable to the public, he said.
Some hunters objected to parts of the McGrath plan that would effectively close part of the area to nonlocal hunters.
"Our constituents hunt in many rural areas of the state," said Mike Tinker, chairman of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
Wildlife viewing interests said the buffer proposal - enlarging a 19-square-mile buffer approved by the board in November to 72 square miles, mostly on the eastern boundary of the park - doesn't afford enough protection for Denali wolves. Paul Joslin, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said the wolves need a 600-square-mile buffer.
Pete Buist, a Fairbanks trapper, said he knew animal protectionists would continue to try for a larger buffer.
"Probably no amount of land will ever be enough," added Stephen Davila, president of the Alaska Trappers Association.