At last count, the number of wolves killed in this winter's aerial wolf control program was at 81 and climbing.
A fresh blanket of snow last weekend aided Interior pilots and their gunners, who reported a harvest of 25 wolves in the past week, most of them in Game Management Unit 19A in the central Kuskokwim River region.
"That's what it takes," said Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms of Fairbanks. "If you don't have fresh snow, you can't see tracks. If it's old and soft you can't tell which tracks are old and which are not. If it's windblown, they don't leave any tracks."
The state is aiming to kill up to 400 wolves in five areas this winter as part of an ongoing effort to boost moose and caribou populations, but aerial hunters will be hard-pressed to reach that number based on what has transpired so far.
As of March 2, the reported kill was at 81, and most of those wolves had been taken out of one of two areas. Hunters had killed a reported 31 wolves in unit 13 (Nelchina Basin) and 29 wolves in unit 19A (central Kuskokwim). Only seven wolves had been reported taken in units 12 and 20E (Fortymile); 13 in unit 16B (west of Cook Inlet) and only one in unit 19D east (McGrath).
Pilots and hunters have been hindered by low snowfall around the state all winter, which combined with the high price of fuel, hasn't made it worthwhile to pursue the predators.
While conditions in the Interior units improved greatly this past week with up to a foot of new snow, conditions in Southcentral Alaska are still poor, said ADF&G spokesman Bruce Bartley with the Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.
"It was lack of snow to start with and then we had that warm spell with rain (in February) that turned everything to a sheet of ice," said Bartley.
Anchorage received about a foot of snow last week but none of it fell west of the Susitna River where wolf control is being carried out, he said.
This is the third year the state has issued permits to pilots and gunners to shoot wolves from the air or to land and shoot them in certain parts of the state. Last year the kill total was reported at 277 and the first year 144 wolves were reported killed by aerial gunners.