Wolf Song of Alaska News

Alaska Game Board to Take up Predator Control Issues

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 10, 2006

The Alaska Board of Game will begin a marathon meeting in Fairbanks today and one of the main targets of discussion will be predator control.

Many of the 167 proposals that have been submitted to the board to change hunting and trapping regulations around the state are aimed at reducing the number of bears and wolves, whether through aerial shooting, longer trapping and hunting seasons, increased bag limits or allowing hunters to use snowmachines to track down wolves.

"One of the biggest issues is going to be predator control," acknowledged Cathie Harms, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. "There's a lot of demand from people who want more animals."

The 10-day meeting will be held at the Princess Hotel in Fairbanks. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. each day and is open to the public.

The seven-person game board establishes seasons, bag limits and methods and means for trapping and hunting in Alaska.

In the past three years, the game board has established aerial wolf control programs in five parts of the state, each of which is considered an "intensive management unit" because they have historically been important food sources for residents.

Aerial gunners have killed more than 500 wolves in the past three years and state wildlife biologists say they are beginning to see indications that moose and caribou populations are rebounding in some areas. As a result, residents from several other regions want similar treatment.

Advisory committees from Delta Junction, the Central Kuskokwim, McGrath and the Yukon Flats all have submitted proposals to implement or expand wolf control programs in their areas.

"Any time people are seeing success from predator control programs they say, 'I wouldn't mind having that in my yard,'" said Harms. "Whether it's a realistic tool that would benefit them isn't always the case."

The state Department of Fish and Game will recommend that the game board hold off pulling the trigger on any new predator control programs or expanding any existing ones because the state isn't prepared to back them up in court, Harms said. That includes a department proposal for lethal wolf control to help the Fortymile Caribou Herd.

A recent court decision demonstrated what kind of information the department must provide to justify predator control, Harms said. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason halted the state's predator control program almost two months ago due to insufficient data.

The game board held an emergency meeting a few days later and made the necessary changes to continue wolf control in those areas, which were upheld by Gleason. In the process, the department recognized what information needed to be included in future proposals and how it must be presented.

"The amount of information necessary to put a control program into effect is substantial," said Harms. "We have to write much longer reports than we used to and we just ran out of time. We have all the information; it's just a matter of writing it."

In addition to actual control programs, there are several proposals aimed at increasing the harvest of bears and wolves around the Interior. Among them:

* Allowing the use of snowmachines to chase down and shoot wolves.

* Allowing the use of bait to hunt wolves.

* Eliminating tag fees, increasing bag limits and lengthening seasons on both black and grizzly bears.

* Increasing bag limits and lengthening the hunting season for wolves.

There will be more than predator control on the agenda, however.

The Department of Fish and Game will be asking the board approve another registration hunt for cow moose in Game Management Unit 20A south of Fairbanks. It's the third straight year the agency has proposing a substantial harvest of antlerless moose in an attempt to knock down a growing population of moose.

Hunters have taken more than 1,200 antlerless moose out of Unit 20A the past two years, but the influx of hunters has bothered some communities on the Parks Highway.

In an attempt to distribute harvest and reduce hunting pressure this coming season, the department is proposing to open the season on Aug. 25 instead of Sept. 1 and keep it open through Feb. 28 instead of Dec. 10.

"The earlier start is to spread out the hunting pressure before the bull season starts and extending the season later is to provide access in more remote areas where we haven't been getting the harvest we want," said state wildlife biologist Don Young, who crafted the proposal.

While he wouldn't divulge what the quota will be for this year's hunt, Young said he envisions a harvest similar to the past two years when hunters killed approximately 600 moose each year.

The department is also proposing a drawing hunt for antlerless moose in Unit 20B outside the Fairbanks Management Area, which up until now has been restricted to bulls.

But Young said the moose population in Unit 20B is growing and can afford a small cow harvest. An antlerless hunt in Unit 20B would also likely cut down on the number of moose versus vehicle collisions on places like the Steese Highway, Chena Hot Springs Road and the Richardson Highway.

"We have pretty high moose densities in that area and we're killing a lot of them on the road," Young said.

Another target of some proposals is nonresident hunters. There are proposals asking the board to either shorten seasons and/or impose antler restrictions on nonresidents in different areas.

The Salcha River Property Owners Association, for example, is asking the board to impose antler restrictions for nonresident hunters in Unit 20B surrounding Fairbanks.

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

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