The hot topic at the Alaska Board of Game's meeting in Fairbanks was put on the back burner Wednesday.
Meeting in Fairbanks for the seventh straight day, the Game Board voted to delay any action on predator control until the Department of Fish and Game can put together the biological information needed to defend that action in court.
Citing a court ruling that resulted in the brief suspension of five aerial wolf control programs in January, the board voted unanimously to table a proposal that would have made permanent a regulation it adopted during an emergency meeting two months ago to reactivate the state's predator control efforts.
The board will do the same with similar proposals for the four other areas predator control is being conducted, as well as any other proposals regarding predator control that come up during the meeting, which is scheduled to continue through Monday at the Fairbanks Princess Hotel.
"The bottom line is we're not going to add anything unless (the Department of Fish and Game) has the funding for it and the supportive data for it," said board member Ted Spraker of Soldotna. "As broke as the department is, I'm not sure what we're going to do."
The decision didn't come as a surprise. Officials with the Department of Fish and Game have repeatedly told the Game Board it isn't financially or biologically ready to institute any new predator control programs.
The board's legal counsel, Kevin Saxby, also told board members that he expects the state's aerial predator control programs to land in court again. Delaying action will allow the Department of Fish and Game to better prepare the programs for a legal battle.
"We have the type of information the board has requested, but need more time to get it in the right format," said Matt Robus, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
The Game Board will set up a special meeting before the emergency regulations for the five current control areas expire on May 25 to adopt permanent regulations, Department of Fish and Game information officer Cathie Harms said.
In the meantime, the state's five current control programs will continue under emergency regulations created in January.
"This delay does not reflect any change in the department's commitment to active management in general or predator control in particular," said Robus. "This delay will not cause an interruption of any kind in the state's ongoing predator control programs."
At last report, private pilots and gunners had killed approximately 100 wolves in the five control areas this winter, bringing to about 550 the number of wolves killed in control areas the past three years.
In addition to proposals to adopt permanent regulations for the current control programs, the Game Board was being asked to institute new programs or expand existing ones in several areas.
While the board decided not to take action on specific predator control proposals, it did loosen hunting and trapping regulations in several areas by amending and adopting other proposals aimed at increasing the harvest of wolves and bears around the Interior.
The board voted to increase the bag limit for wolves from five to 10 a season in the middle Yukon units of 21A and 21E, as well as open the trapping season in Unit 21A a month earlier on Oct. 1. The board also voted to waive a $25 tag fee for brown bears in Unit 21E and adopted a bag limit of two brown bears in Unit 19A (central Kuskokwim) for both residents and nonresidents with no closed season.
On Tuesday, the board voted to allow hunters to use snowmachines to hunt wolves in the Yukon Flats (Unit 25D) and also approved an Oct. 1 start to the wolf trapping season in the unit.
"I think if there's anything this board can do to increase local opportunities for ground-based trapping and hunting to capture a few more wolves and maybe stop the decline to moose populations we should do it," said Spraker.
The board spent much of Wednesday debating changes to moose hunting seasons in the central Kuskokwim region, where local residents have proposed several restrictions to resident and non-resident hunting seasons to halt a steady decline in moose populations and harvest.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org