State to shoot wolves on Aleutian island

Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The Department of Fish and Game says it will shoot some wolves on Unimak Island in the Aleutian chain to protect calving caribou.

The department said Thursday that starting around June 1, two biologists and four pilots would kill wolves by shotgun during a three-week period.

State area biologist Lem Butler says the plan will limit the number of wolves shot to those on the calving grounds. Biologists believe there are fewer than 30 wolves on the 1,571-square-mile island.

"The situation constitutes a dire conservation emergency," Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said in a letter sent to Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "Immediate action is necessary."

The state Board of Game closed all caribou hunting last year.

"Without taking action this spring to remove wolves on the calving grounds, an extremely low level of calf survival due to wolf predation will accelerate the downward spiral of the (caribou) and eventually the wolves themselves," Lloyd predicted.

Unimak caribou have declined from more than 1,200 animals in 2002 to about 400 last year.

Unimak Island is dominated by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Federal managers are making an environmental assessment of reducing wolf numbers.

"We're conducting a review and continue that process," said Bruce Woods, a spokesman for Fish & Wildlife in Alaska.

Fish and Wildlife has conducted several predator control programs to protect bird populations in recent years, including a $3 million effort to poison the rats that overran Rat Island on the western edge of the refuge.

The state isn't waiting for the feds to protect caribou.

"We will do something by about June 1," said Pat Valkenberg of Fish and Game. "We are the primary wildlife managers on all federal lands in the state."

The two agencies have been meeting since November, and Fish and Game officials described the sessions as cordial.

Ninty-nine percent of the calves perish before they reach 1 month, said Lem Butler, a state area management biologist from King Salmon. And there are only five bulls for every 100 cows, many of them older animals.

"That's the heart of the issue," he said.

Fewer than 100 people live in False Pass, the major town on the island.

"Residents of False Pass are extremely concerned about the precipitous decline in caribou on the island because caribou have been an important part of our subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years," wrote Nancy Dushkin, president of Isanotski, the Native village corporation in False Pass, in a letter to Fish and Game. "Now we see no caribou at all and ... the number of wolves and bear appear to be at all-time highs."

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