Alaska editorial: Wildlife managers need options for predator control

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Back in the 1940s and '50s federal predator control agents spread strychnine-laced meat across Alaska's wilds, indiscriminately killing any animals that happened upon the bait, in the name of predator control.

In the 1970s a former Navy-trained machine gunner who worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposed what he thought might be a safer means of shooting wolves from helicopters than having to swoop close enough to use shotguns. Many don't know the biologist, but the moniker "Machine Gun Kelleyhouse" still rings a bell with those who have heard the now infamous story of what was proposed, but was never carried out.

In the 1990s the state tracked radio-collared wolves and attempted to set bait and traps for them in lieu of an aerial gunning program. A wildlife activist went to court to obtain the state's radio-collar frequencies and followed a camera-shy and understandably agitated biologist to a leg-snared wolf and filmed as the former hunting safety instructor put the wrong ammunition into his gun and multiple ineffective shots into a trapped wolf for people to watch on TV screens across the world.

A group circulating a wolf control petition has claimed that limiting wolf control efforts to those carried out by government agencies spares hunters, trappers and Alaska from a potential "black eye" due to predator control efforts.

So much for that idea.

Alaskans for Wildlife is circulating a petition now that could lead to a ballot measure asking voters to limit any future predator control programs to those carried out only by state officials.

Currently, the state issues permits to private pilot-shooter teams to kill wolves. Attempts to curb grizzly bear predation have been limited to loosened hunting regulations, including allowing - ineffectively thus far - the use of bait to hunt grizzlies in one eastern Interior region.

While we have argued in this space that the most efficient and scientific means of predator control is by helicopter with paid professional gunners, we've also recognized that is an extremely expensive means of carrying out the job. The state could use helicopters, but it chooses not to mostly for economic reasons.

A combination of government helicopter gun teams with permitted private pilot-gunner teams would probably be the most effective and practical means of carrying out predator control if the state was truly committed to the task. State shooters with helicopters could reach predators in areas that are simply impossible for airplane gunners to work.

Current law gives wildlife managers the option to employ either tool where predator control is necessary. As long as private pilot-gunner teams are willing to risk their necks and expensive airplanes in pursuit of wolves we should allow that participation in the game management process.

There is no need to alter state statute to limit the available options or to tinker with definitions regarding when predator control may be used. Alaskans should avoid signing this most recent petition.



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