Anchorage Alaska -- The state is testing some new ideas to boost the numbers of wolves killed under its predator control programs.
They are introducing a cash bonus for pilot-gunner teams who take a wolf and may eventually allow state biologists to shoot wolves from helicopters.
It's been a dismal year for state-permitted aerial gunner teams targeting wolves. So far 98 wolves have been killed this year, well below the state's objective of more than 380.
Gov. Sarah Palin has approved an incentive of $150 for every wolf taken.
Alaska Wildlife Alliance Director John Toppenberg doesn't agree with the move.
"Incentive is just a fancy word for bounty and let's call it what it is, it's a bounty," Toppenberg said.
But state officials said the program is much more controlled than the old wolf bounty programs that ended 35 years ago.
"It's not just any Tom, Dick and Harry that wants to run out and bust a wolf is going to get a reward. It's these guys who have already spent a lot of their own money and we're just trying to help them out a little bit," said Bruce Bartley of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The state also plans to allow its biologists to help the gunner teams track and spot wolves. If that doesn't work, biologist themselves could be shooting the wolves from helicopters.
"This is about manipulating populations of animals; this is not about the health of ecosystems. And until this becomes science about ecosystems that recognizes valid accepted scientific principles, we are opposed to airborne killing, we are opposed to helicopter killing," Toppenberg said.
The department said the problem so far has been lack of snow. And without a late season weather change, officials don't expect the new efforts to make much of a difference.
"No matter what method you're using, if you don't have snow to track the wolves and find them - it's unlikely to be anymore effective than we are now," Botley said.
The department said it will give the cash incentive until about the end of the month, before it considers using a helicopter. If the snow conditions remain poor, even a helicopter will have little chance of success, officials said.
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