Only 10 wolves have been reported taken so far this winter by aerial gunners participating in the state's predator control program in Southcentral Alaska and in the Interior.
But officials with the Department of Fish and Game aren't fretting about the low harvest at this point. Only 20 wolves were reported taken at this time last year and the total kill ended up at more than 150 wolves.
"February, March and April are the big months," said department information officer Cathie Harms. "At this stage, we'd consider where we're at perfectly normal."
There are five areas in Southcentral and in the Interior where the state has issued permits for aerial gunners to shoot wolves from the air or to land and shoot them in an attempt to boost moose and caribou populations for hunting.
Six wolves have been taken in Game Management Unit 16 west of Anchorage, three have been reported taken in Units 12 and 20E in the Fortymile and one wolf was reported killed in Unit 13, the Nelchina Basin. No wolves have been taken in Unit 19A, the central Kuskokwim region, or in Unit 19D east around McGrath.
Lack of snow in October and November prevented pilots from tracking wolves or landing and lack of daylight keeps most pilots grounded in December and January because it takes too much time flying to and from the control areas, leaving little time for hunting wolves.
"We don't consider it abnormal that nothing has been taken in January," said Harms. "We open it in the fall because some people might want the opportunity (to shoot wolves) but we don't expect anything to happen until late February or March.
"You need enough light and contrast and snow to see fresh tracks," she said.
The high price of fuel also could be keeping pilots on the ground, Harms said.
"A lot of people are waiting for conditions to be better before spending money on (aviation) gas," she said.
In the past four years, including this one, aerial hunters have reported killing 569 wolves. In the first year of the program, 142 were taken, with 275 in the second year and 152 last year.
Meanwhile, two lawsuits filed to stop the state's predator control program are still working through the court system.
Defenders of Wildlife and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance filed a suit in Superior Court in November alleging that the state's predator control program is based on faulty science and violates state law. A similar lawsuit was filed shortly afterward by the Connecticut-based group Friends of Animals and Fairbanks bush pilot Tom Classen.
But Alaska Wildlife Alliance director John Toppenberg wasn't holding out much hope the court will halt the program.
"I think the (Defenders of Wildlife and Alaska Wildlife Alliance) suit is well grounded and I think it's a valid claim, but I don't hold high hopes for it going anywhere," Toppenberg said on Friday.
Michael Grisham, an Anchorage attorney handling the suit for Friends of Animals, said that suit has just been assigned to a judge. He plans on filing for a preliminary injunction to stop the state's aerial predator control program in the next week.
Friends of Animals filed a similar lawsuit last year that put a temporary halt to the program when a judge ruled that the Game Board had not followed its own rules in approving the programs and had not considered all alternatives besides aerial killing. The Game Board responded with new regulations that satisfied the legal shortcomings and resurrected aerial wolf control in all five areas.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.