Wolf Song of Alaska News

Predator Control in Alaska Could Expand

Proposals:  State would allow bear trapping to boost moose numbers in Interior

Alex deMarban / Anchorage Daily News / May 13, 2006

The Board of Game is being asked to dramatically expand Alaska's predator-control program by increasing aerial and snowmachine wolf kills and giving hunters and trappers the chance to eliminate more bears.

Commissioners plan to consider more than a dozen controversial proposals targeting predators at a three-day meeting in Anchorage that began Friday morning.

Some of the measures would:

* Give hunters on snowmachines the chance to pursue and shoot wolves just a quick drive from Wasilla or Big Lake.

* Let airborne hunters bait and kill bears immediately after landing.

* Create the state's only bear-trapping program in an area near McGrath.

The proposals, introduced by advisory committees, are designed to reduce big-game predators in an effort to increase struggling moose and caribou populations in several areas across Alaska.

At the meeting Friday, a handful of wildlife activists and hunters squeezed into rows of spectators chairs in a tiny room in the Atwood Building. The board isn't taking oral testimony.

Despite battling the three-year-old program with costly lawsuits and national protests, predator-control opponents are resigned that little can be done now, said Valerie Brown, a private attorney in Anchorage representing Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife.

The board will likely pass many of the proposals, she said. Defenders will wait to see what they do before considering its next move.

The meeting, consisting mostly of presentations by biologists on Friday, is the second part of meetings that began in March in Fairbanks. The board heard public comment in Fairbanks but delayed action on the predator-control measures.

State officials wanting to lawsuit-proof the program needed more time to justify the proposals with additional data clarifying such things as wildlife numbers and habitat.

The Anchorage meeting is part technicality: The board must codify emergency regulations passed in January to allow aerial and land-and-shoot wolf kills to continue in five areas of the state, mostly in the Interior.

Board members will approve those proposals and may also expand two of the five areas, they said. Because wolves reproduce quickly with large litters, stopping the program for even one year could set it back to square one, they said.

"The best thing is to reduce the prey population right where you want it -- in the first year," said board member Ted Spraker of Soldotna. "I'm sure that would not be very tasteful to the public ... but if you're going to do it you should do it right and be very efficient."

Moose numbers are rising around the Kuskokwim River village of McGrath, where aerial kills have been in place the longest, said state Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms.

Aerial gunners and land-and-shoot hunters have killed more than 550 wolves in three years, Harms said. Together with wolves killed by hunters and trappers, the state has met goals in four of five areas of the state.

The commissioners may also increase bear baiting in hard-to-reach areas. To do that, they'll waive rules against same-day airborne hunting, allowing hunters to bait and shoot bears on the same day they've flown.

Commissioners might be interested in experimenting with that idea in one area of the state, said board Chairman Mike Fleagle.

To increase moose for urban hunters, another measure would give snowmachiners the chance to chase and shoot wolves on either side of the Parks Highway around Kashwitna and Talkeetna. Land-and-shoot hunting would also be allowed in the 4,000-square-mile area.

Moose numbers are low in those areas, so urbanites are increasingly hunting in rural areas where moose are an important subsistence food, said Pat Valkenburg, a former state biologist with the Alaska Outdoor Council.

The pro-hunting organization hopes the board supports that proposal and another to let the public trap and kill brown bears in a 750-square-mile area near McGrath. Bear trapping currently isn't allowed in Alaska, he said.

The measures before the board, which include proposals to liberalize the sale of bear hides, will give wildlife hunters and viewers more moose and caribou to enjoy, Valkenburg said.

But Brown said they could wipe out entire populations of bears and wolves.

"They say they are not trying to eliminate predators but they are reducing them to a negligible amount," she said.

Written testimony will be taken through Sunday. The meetings continue at 8:30 a.m. today and 9 a.m. Sunday.

Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban@adn.com or 1-907-257-4310.

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