Zoo not called before wolf pup killing

Fish and Game didn't contact likely homes for pups before incident

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2008

The state Department of Fish and Game did not contact two of the most likely candidates to place wolf pups before shooting the pups during a wolf killing in June.

The Alaska Zoo said it would have taken in and sought permanent homes for orphaned wolf pups.

"The first thing I'd do would be talk to the curator, figure out how many (pups) for how long, figure out a place where they could be appropriately placed," Alaska Zoo Director Pat Lampi said Tuesday. "We would certainly be willing to make some phone calls."

Both Lampi and Steve Kroeschel of the Haines Animal Center, an educational facility, said the state did not call to ask about wolf pup placements.

Department of Fish and Game biologists killed 28 wolves in early June to save the Southern Alaska Peninsula caribou herd, which has had very low calf survival in recent years. They've claimed success so far; calf survival has gone way up.

But the department faces criticism from the public - most strongly from the sponsors of an upcoming ballot measure to restrict the state's wolf control program - for killing 14 pups along with the 14 adults.

The state's orphaned wildlife policy is first to leave an animal alone if it can survive on its own. If not, the department is supposed to look for a home. If no home is available, biologists are directed to kill the animals quickly instead of leaving them to die slowly.

Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd's My Turn published in the Empire last week said the pups were euthanized "because we had no offers from zoos or other facilities to take in such pups."

Joel Bennett, former Board of Game member and coauthor of Ballot Measure 2 with Nick Jans, called that "clearly evasive."

"They really didn't make any effort ahead of time to try and place the pups," he said.

Measure 2 on Tuesday's ballot seeks to mandate that only state biologists can kill wolves and only in a biological emergency for prey animals' survival.

Bennett also criticizes the department for clamping down on information about how the wolf killings were handled. He suspects the department's response to his request for all documents relating to the pups was inadequate - it had no photographs, no phone logs, and scant evidence of discussions, he said.

"If we're not satisfied, I'd say it's certainly on the table to file suit," Bennett said.

Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Doug Larsen said he provided all the documents.

But Larsen acknowledged that information was becoming more difficult to get as the issue became more controversial.

A state biologist gave his account of the killing weeks ago over the phone to Denali Park biologist Gordon Haber. Asked for the same account Wednesday, he asked the Empire to submit written questions.

"We're really trying not to get into the details over the phone," the biologist said.

Larsen said this week he was protecting his field biologists from public criticism.

"I, as director, don't want to expose specific staff to that," he said.

He added that the department is aware of a potential lawsuit.

"If this were to be litigated, our Department of Law has indicated that we're better off not getting into details," he said.

"What they're trying to do is just shut off the information now and not let the truth out," Bennett said. "Since when does a public agency have that option?"

The department is taken aback that it has taken so much heat over the pups.

In his opinion piece, Lloyd said the department thought the use of helicopters was going to be the most controversial part of June's killings. And internal e-mails show that department staff writing the press release after the event were largely concerned about accurately representing the program's benefit to the caribou herd.

At the same time, department records show biologists anticipated the sensitivity of the issue at several points. Notes from a Dec. 19 staff meeting on the wolf control state that the issue of pups, pupping and pups in dens "has the potential to change this action from one having broader public support to one having the least support."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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