The Board of Game may expand predator control, giving snowmachiners the chance to pursue and shoot wolves just a quick drive from Wasilla or Big Lake.
Fresh off an Alaska Supreme Court victory in the continuing fight over wolf control, the board will look at several proposals to expand aerial wolf kills, liberalize the sale of bear hides and allow snowmachiners to hunt wolves in new areas.
The 10-day meeting begins today in Fairbanks.
The wolf proposals are designed to produce more moose for hunters, as is one to bring predator control to Anchorage and Mat-Su's backyard.
It would open 3,950 square miles on both sides of the Parks Highway, around Kashwitna and Talkeetna, to land-and-shoot wolf kills and snowmachine wolf hunts.
Right now, hunters on snowmachines can pursue wolves in only a few areas of the state. The areas north of Big Lake and Wasilla, like most of the state, are now governed by laws that forbid the use of motorized vehicles to pursue game.
If the proposal passes, hunters would be allowed to use a snowmachine to track, pursue and kill wolves in the area, as long as they're not on the highway or shooting across it, said Cathie Harms, a Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman in Fairbanks.
They would also have to stop the snowmachine before shooting. They would not have to step off the snowmachine.
Rod Arno, executive director of the pro-hunting Alaska Outdoor Council, said several snowmachiners at the recent gun show in Palmer expressed an interest in hunting wolves. He said the Game Board has good reasons to adopt the proposal. It's been long sought by local Fish and Game advisory committees, and the board has new information on moose and wolf numbers, he said.
Last fall, biologists completed the first aerial survey in the Mat-Su area in at least five years. There are about 3,000 moose, roughly half what the area will support, said Palmer area state biologist Tony Kavalok.
David McHoes, a Skwentna resident who traps in the area, said the aerial wolf-kill program is sorely needed. For example, he said, the calf-to-cow ratio of moose in game unit 16A, on the west side of the Parks Highway, is much lower than in the past.
Allowing snowmachiners to kill wolves will help reduce their numbers, he said.
McHoes, a member of the Mount Yenlo Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he sees more wolves than he ever used to and has seen tracks along the Susitna and Kahiltna rivers.
The state estimates there are now at least 39 to 55 wolves in unit 16A, the 1,850-square-mile area west of the Parks Highway, Kavalok said. The state wants only eight to 15 wolves in three packs there.
The state also estimates there are at least 112 to 121 wolves in unit 14B, the 2,100-square-mile area east of the highway, and in unit 14A, a larger area to the south surrounding Wasilla and Palmer, Kavalok said. The state wants only 35 wolves in both units, although 14A is not being considered as a predator-control area.
As of Tuesday, pilots and gunners registered with the state's wolf-control program had killed 88 wolves in the state's five predator-control areas since November, according to the Department of Fish and Game. The areas are located in the Interior, near McGrath and in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage.
What the board does will determine if Connecticut-based Friends of Animals and other plaintiffs take legal action to stop the wolf program, said attorney Jim Reeves in Anchorage.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, said the organization relaunched a national campaign this week, with newspaper and magazine ads asking tourists to boycott Alaska over the wolf kill.
She expects the board to expand the program, though. "They're on a roll," she said.
"They'll be using grenades next," she added.
Game Board chairman Mike Fleagle said he hasn't taken a position on any of the measures. But he sees dual advantage in the proposal to control wolf numbers in the area near Anchorage and Wasilla. About half the state lives in the two areas.
The proposal would give urban hunters better odds of bagging a moose near home, he said. And that will reduce hunting pressure in rural areas, where residents rely on moose for subsistence.
Kenny Barber, a trapper from Palmer and a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said residents need all the help they can get to produce more moose. He said allowing snowmachiners to hunt wolves will increase moose numbers.
Trappers aren't killing many wolves west of the highway, he said. A lice infestation there is destroying pelts, Barber said.
"With more killing opportunities more people might go out there," he said.
If the proposal passes, snowmachiners will need a trapping or hunting license to track, pursue and kill wolves in the area.
The state doesn't allow kills from a moving snowmachine, even in predator-control areas. The regulation preserves "fair chase," or ethical standards, said spokesman Bruce Bartley from the Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.
Valerie Brown, a private attorney in Anchorage representing Washington, D.C.,-based Defenders of Wildlife, said in her opinion tracking wolves on a snowmachine is harassment, which, she said, is illegal under state law.
McHoes, the Skwentna trapper, said "fair chase" and ethics don't matter in a predator-control program. The wolves are dead and don't care how they got that way, he said.
"It's not about the way the game is played, it's about achieving your objective," he said.
Tracking and killing wolves with a snowmachine is allowed in the five predator-control areas of the state, Bartley said. Snowmachiners can also track and kill wolves in some areas not covered by predator-control programs: on portions of the upper Alaska Peninsula and in Southwest Alaska, Bartley said. They must take the hides to a Fish and Game office to be recorded, he said.
About 1,500 wolves are killed each year, Bartley said. The state estimates there are between 7,100 and 11,300 wolves in the state.
Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4310.