Wolf Song of Alaska News

Gunmen Paid to Shoot Wolves from the Air

Jerry Garner / Bigger Digger News / March 22, 2007


The Alaskan wolf cull has always been a controversial topic. Opponents describe it as savage and brutal, while proponents say it is necessary for the protection of other species. Alaska has upped the ante once more by offering to pay $150 for every wolf killed in the Alaska interior.

Mankind has always had a fear of the wolf, which often times resulted in hatred. This sparked the species of being hunted to near extinction in Europe, and aroused outspoken protests from ranchers when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. Alaska is one of the few places on Earth where wolves have flourished, but that livelihood is in jeopardy as the Government pays hunters to kill the animals from the air.

Shooting wolves from the air has always sparked heated debates in Alaska. It was first put to a public vote in 2000, when the citizens of Alaska gathered around a public referendum to ban the aerial hunting of wolves. Discouraged by the public view, then-Governor Frank Murkowski bypassed the aerial hunting ban by still allowing pilots to participate in land-and-shoot practices.

While the practice outraged many of the State's residents, who often have a love of Alaska's wildlife, the land-and-shoot wolf hunts continued for years. In 2003, Governor Murkowski opened the door for aerial wolf hunting, which he called the Predator Control Program. This program has been continued, and now expanded, by Murkowski's successor, Governor Sarah Palin, despite numerous ballots and petitions to stop the killing of wolves.

Under the revised Predator Control Program, the 180 pilots and gunners who have received permits to shoot wolves from the air will now be paid a bounty of $150 for each wolf they kill. The bounty will be collected when the hunter turns in the left front leg of the wolf, which will be used for scientific study by State biologists.

According to Denby Lloyd, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the left foreleg of the wolf can be used to determine the age of the wolf that was killed. This information will help the State adjust the program in future years.

The State estimates that there are 7,000 to 11,000 wolves living in the Alaska interior. The cull on wolves has been implemented to protect Moose and Caribou, by reducing the number of their natural predators. The plan has outraged many Alaskans.

"What the state is involved in here has more to do with animal husbandry than science, the elimination of one species to artificially inflate another." said John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

The state was hoping to kill 382 to 664 wolves this Winter, but only 114 have been reported dead so far. With the end of the wolf killing season drawing near, authorities have offered the reward as an incentive for pilots, who have reported difficult times in wolf hunts due to escalating fuel prices and bad weather.
The Department of Fish and Game seems to have taken a "whatever it takes" approach to reaching their annual goal in the wolf cull. The Department stated that it will increase the number of aerial wolf hunter permits if necessary, and even fly in biologists to help pilots track the wolves. The Department even went on to say that, as a last resort effort, State employees may be used to track and kill wolves by helicopter.

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