For the first time since Alaska's aerial wolf control program began three years ago, it has reached one of its target goals, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Monday.
With 62 wolves killed either through the aerial program or trapping, the predator control program has reached its limit in game unit 19A near Aniak in Southcentral Alaska. Forty-seven of the wolves were shot under the aerial program, and the others were hunted or trapped. The trapping number is expected to increase as the 30-day reporting requirement is met, officials said.
"From our perspective, it went well this year," said Kim Titus, deputy director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, commenting on the program operating near Aniak.
The division issued an emergency order effective Monday shutting down the aerial wolf control program in that game unit. The goal in the Aniak area was to reduce the number of wolves from an estimated 114 to 120 wolves to between 40 and 53.
About 400 wolves have been killed in the first two years of the program. The goal this year is another 400. As of Monday, 140 wolves have been killed this year statewide under the aerial program. Unlike aerial hunters who have five days to report their numbers to the state, trappers have 30 days.
"Weather conditions in March were good for trappers and people with wolf control permits," said Aniak area biologist Roger Seavoy.
Titus said part of the success in the Aniak area was because of local support for the program, which is designed to increase moose and caribou numbers in five parts of Alaska.
It will take between three and five years to measure the success of the program, Titus said. The Aniak area program is in its second year.
"We are looking, along with the locals, for a response in the moose population in the next few years," Titus said.
The other four areas of the state where aerial wolf hunting is allowed remained open Monday. The program ends for the year on April 30.
Conditions this spring in Southcentral Alaska have been pretty "hit or miss" when it comes to hunting wolves, said Fish and Game spokesman Bruce Bartley in Anchorage.
In game unit 16B on the western side of Cook Inlet, there has been little snow, Bartley said. As of Monday, 20 wolves were reported killed under the program there, not including those that have been trapped.
He said he expects the western side of Cook Inlet to fall short of its goal again this year.
Game unit 13A in the Glennallen area northeast of Anchorage was on track to come close to its goal of removing between 80 and 110 wolves. As of Monday, 56 wolves had been killed under the aerial program.
Bartley said he expects the number to rise as more trappers meet the reporting requirement.
"Hunters and trappers have 30 days after the close of the season to report their wolves. Quite frankly, particularly trappers that are serious, do wait. They take the wolf, they skin it and stretch it and dry it and bring all their furs in at once," he said.
Four wolves had been killed so far this year in the McGrath area in the Interior, where the program first was launched three years ago. The small number reflects the success of the program in that one area where the goal is to remove all the wolves.
Few wolves actually remain in the control area, Titus said.
As of Monday, 13 wolves had been killed under the aerial program in game units 12 and 20E near Tok in eastern Alaska. The goal is to remove between 97 and 131 wolves, leaving about 50 in that area. Titus said he's received reports that conditions have been poor for flying as well as trapping wolves near Tok.
Area biologists will be looking for feedback after the program ends for the year, Titus said.
"We will conduct an informal survey of these pilot and gunner teams and get their impression of where the program should and shouldn't go in future years," he said.