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Aerial Wolf-Control Program Resumes

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News Miner / November 27, 2004

Aerial wolf hunters claimed their first kills of the season this week near McGrath and in the Nelchina Basin as officials renewed wolf-control efforts in certain parts of the state to boost moose and caribou populations for hunters.

Four wolves were killed this week--two in Game Management Unit 19D East near McGrath and two in Game Management Unit 13--as pilot-gunner teams took to the skies with permits supplied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last week.

Those are two of the five regions the state Board of Game has designated for aerial wolf control this winter. Three more areas--Unit 16B west of Anchorage, Unit 19A on the central Kuskokwim River and Units 12 and 20E near Tok--were added to the list earlier this year.

The state wants more than 500 wolves in the five areas killed this winter.

In addition to Unit 13 and 19D East, almost three dozen permits have been issued for Unit 16 west of Anchorage. Those hunters can take to the air beginning Wednesday, according to information officer Bruce Bartley with Fish and Game in Anchorage.

It will probably be at least another week or two before permits will be issued in Unit 19A because biologists are still finishing up moose surveys in the area, according to Cathie Harms, ADF&G information officer in Fairbanks. She wasn't sure how many permits would be issued for Unit 19A.

The harvest objective in Unit 16 is 100 wolves, while hunters in Unit 19A can take up to 150. The harvest objectives in Units 13 and 19D East are the same as they were last year at 140 and 40, respectively.

Hunters will be allowed to land and shoot or shoot from airplanes in Unit 19D East and Unit 19A near Aniak, while hunters in Unit 13 in the Nelchina Basin and Unit 16B will be allowed only to land and shoot.

The state is also planning to issue permits for portions of Units 12 and 20E sometime in late December or early January, Harms said. The harvest objective for that area has yet to be determined but will likely be at least 100 wolves.

After being chased around by hunters in airplanes last winter, state game managers expect wolves in Units 13 and 19D East to be harder for hunters to track down this winter. Last year, hunters killed 127 wolves in Unit 13 and 17 in 19D East.

"The wolves we've got left are a lot smarter," Bartley said. "It's going to be a lot harder to take wolves this year than last year."

As a result, the Department of Fish and Game reduced by almost one-third the number of permits it issued to pilot-gunner teams to hunt wolves in Unit 13 south of Fairbanks. The state is only issuing 20 permits this year as opposed to 33 last year when hunters claimed 127 wolves in the Nelchina Basin.

"The biggest complaint we had from permittees last year was there were too many airplanes out there," Bartley said. "We ratcheted it back to guys who had the most success last year."

The state received more than 80 applications from pilot-gunner teams to hunt wolves in the four regions. Permits are issued based on a pilot's familiarity and flying time in an area, as well as previous experience hunting wolves.

Similar to last year, the state's aggressive stance against predators has drawn protests from Lower 48 wildlife advocacy groups such as Friends of Animals and Defenders of Wildlife.

Friends of Animals is once again organizing a tourism boycott of Alaska by organizing "howl-in" demonstrations in a more than a two dozen cities in the Lower 48. The group organized a similar campaign last year with more than 150 howl-ins but the protests failed to put a dent in Alaska's $2 billion-a-year tourism industry. The number of visitors in Alaska last summer was 1.4 million, up 100,000 to 150,000 from the previous summer, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Defenders of Wildlife, meanwhile, has once again petitioned Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to halt the aerial hunting of wolves in Alaska under the Federal Airborne Hunting Act. The group is also collecting signatures on a petition to send to President Bush. As of Friday, more than 5,600 people had signed the petition.

""They have no idea how many wolves are in these areas, yet they're going in with these numbers made up on purely anecdotal information and doing some serious damage to the predator population," said Karen Deatherage, the Alaska representative for Defenders.

But state wildlife biologists say there are plenty of wolves to go around. Alaska's wolf population is estimated at anywhere from 8,000 to 11,000 and hunters and trappers on average kill 1,500 a year.

Staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at tmowry@newsminer.com or 459-7587.

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