Fairbanks -- Wildlife officials say the number of wolves collected in the state's aerial wolf-control program this winter was less than half of what was expected.
Officials had hoped for a harvest of up to 400 wolves this season in five areas of Alaska. Aerial gunners so far have reported taking 153 wolves through the program, which ended April 30.
High fuel prices, bad weather and a court ruling that halted the entire program for a week in January likely contributed to lower-than-expected wolf kills, wildlife officials said.
A closure of one of the culling areas west of Anchorage during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race also shortened the season.
"There's a lot of factors," said Fish and Game public information officer Bruce Bartley in Anchorage.
This is the third year in a row the state has issued permits to shoot wolves from airplanes, or to land and shoot them in five sections of the state. A total of 564 wolves have been killed in the past three years.
Alaska voters have twice voted down aerial hunting of wolves, but the Alaska Legislature passed a law that allows the state to issue permits to qualified pilots and gunners in areas that have moose and caribou populations deemed important for human consumption.
The goal is to reduce wolf populations in each of the specified areas by as much as 80 percent annually, leaving a minimum number of wolves to ensure they are not wiped out.
Weather disrupted the killing program most notably in Southcentral Alaska. Aerial gunners killed 23 wolves in the region this year compared with 91 last year.
The region suffered a snow drought the first half of the winter and there were few fresh snowfalls, meaning old and new animal tracks were intermingled for long periods.
Hunters in the area also lost two weeks to a program shutdown for a week in January as a result of a court ruling in a lawsuit by Connecticut-based animal rights group Friends of Animals. It was halted for another week in early March for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Friends of Animals, which has led the attack against the state's predator control program, will keep up the fight, executive director Priscilla Feral said.
The group is considering another lawsuit depending on what the state Board of Game does in a special meeting May 12-14 in Anchorage. The Game Board will look at several proposals it tabled during a March meeting in Fairbanks that would expand or add areas to the wolf-control program.