Group seeks to ramp up wolf hunting

Two proposals aim to improve stability of moose population

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee has asked the Alaska Board of Game to loosen wolf hunting regulations throughout Southeast Alaska to boost the moose population in the Chilkat Valley.

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The Haines-based committee submitted two proposals for consideration at the board's November meeting, stating "the wolf to moose ratio has become unbalanced and an increase in wolf kills on moose has increased to a point of danger to the stability of the moose herd."

Proposal 39 seeks to extend the wolf hunting season one month - until May 30 - throughout Southeast, and allow five additional wolves to be taken in the region. The second measure, Proposal 40, would allow for same-day fly-and-shoot hunting in the Chilkat Valley near Haines. If approved, this eventually could allow hunters to fly over the area, spot a wolf, land their aircraft and kill it.

This method is illegal in the Southeast and allowed only in a limited portion of Alaska.

Opponents of the proposals, which includes conservationists and Fish and Game wildlife biologists, contend that moose populations are stable, particularly in the Chilkat Valley area. They also say that initiating the proposed same day fly-and-shoot method of hunting in this region would require several steps to implement, including wolf-population studies.

"There has to be three other things that would have to happen with some very complex steps to legally authorize any predation control in the Haines area," said Kim Titus, deputy director of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation. "And virtually in every other place in the state (where this method has been approved), it has taken a number of years and a number of public meetings."

Past litigation has complicated hunting regulations for bears and wolves. Also changing predator regulations can have a ripple effect on the populations of animals they hunt.

Jenny Pursell, board president of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, worries that Proposal 40 could pave the way in the Southeast for aerial wolf hunting - a hot-button issue throughout the state. That method of hunting differs from the one being proposed in the Chilkat Valley because it does not require hunters to land before shooting wolves.

"(I am worried) that this idea is seeding here in the Southeast. That is another reason why it is so egregious. It is kind of opening the door here," she said. She said she would be more inclined to approve of the proposals if they were backed by hard science.

"We don't' have any good, hard numbers on wolf numbers in that area," said Neil Barten, wildlife biologist for the division. "What we do have are moose numbers. The moose numbers today are easily as high as they were 20 years ago."

This past year, 27 moose were taken by hunters, Barten said. That is up from an average of 18 to 20 for the previous five years.

"What that shows you is that predators aren't obviously eating the calves," he said.

The Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee also hopes to extend the wolf hunting season throughout the Southeast region, saying "a longer wolf season would not improve the quality of the resource, but would give hunters a better chance to harvest wolves and establish a better wolf to moose ration."

Members of the committee could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Joel Bennett, chairman of Alaskans for Wildlife, said that extending the season into warmer months would make thinner pelts less valuable and therefore, commercially marketable.

"Wolves are on the margin of being salable anyway," he said.

Titus of Fish and Game said that there has been a considerable number of changes to wolf hunting regulations in the past and that the department would just as soon keep them alone for a while, just for the standpoint of consistency.

"We don't see any reason to extend that hunting season,"

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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