Wolf Song of Alaska News

Brief History of Wolf Control in Alaska

Defenders of Wildlife / October 1, 2007


1915-1968:  Alaska pays bounties for wolf killing. The first aerial hunting of wolves occurs in 1948.

1971-72:  After a documentary on the practice of aerial hunting appears on national TV, Congress passes the Airborne Hunting Act, prohibiting the use of aircraft to shoot or harass wildlife.

1979:  Alaska designates three areas in west-central Alaska for wolf control and issues aerial- hunting permits to pilot-gunner teams. Wolf kills escalate.

1990:  Alaska Board of Game attempts to adopt a Strategic Management Plan for wolves, but negotiators reach limited consensus. When Gov. Wally Hickel comes into office, the consensus plan is overturned in favor of broader wolf-control methods.

November 1992:  Alaska Board of Game adopts an extensive wolf-control program in three large areas, with a goal of reducing wolves by 80 percent over 20,000 square miles. Pilots locate packs from the air by following radio-collared pack members.

January 1993:  Gov. Hickel, overwhelmed by public pressure, a threatened tourist boycott and 100,000 letters, halts the aerial hunts and calls a wolf-summit meeting. At the meeting the Board of Game formally cancels all three programs.

June 1993:  The Board of Game reinstates "land-and-shoot" wolf killing but classifies it under trapping regulations. The new rules impose no bag limits, extend the trapping season and permit wolves to be killed statewide, boosting wolf kills to a 20-year high.

1994:  Alaska legislature passes an "intensive management" law, requiring predator control in cases of high human demand and low moose and caribou numbers.

February 1995:  Newly elected Gov. Tony Knowles halts the state's wolf-control program and asks for a National Academy of Sciences review of the wolf-control issue. Only non-lethal predator control occurs during Knowles' two terms in office (1994-2002).

October 1995: Wolf Management Reform Coalition is formed to gather the 22,000 signatures needed to place a citizen initiative, Proposition 3, on the ballot in the November 1996 general election. The initiative would prohibit the use of airplanes to hunt wolves in Alaska except for "biological emergencies." The effort gathers more than 33,000 signatures.

November 1996: Alaska voters pass Proposition 3 by 58.5 percent, effectively banning aerial hunting.

1999:  Alaska Legislature passes a bill (SB 74) to remove the need for a biological emergency to conduct aerial wolf control. Though Gov. Knowles vetoes the bill, the legislature overrides the veto.

March 2000:  Alaska Legislature passes a bill (SB 267) to open aerial shooting of wolves to people other than Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel and to establish land-and-shoot wolf hunting in specific areas. Again, the legislature overrides the governor's veto.

May 2000:  Ballot measure group Alaskans for Wildlife submits a referendum, "Proposition 6," to repeal SB 267.

November 2000: Alaska voters approve Proposition 6 by 53 percent, again restricting airborne wolf control to Department of Fish and Game personnel only.

2003:  Alaska legislature reinstates airborne wolf control by private pilots and gunners by passing SB 155. Gov. Frank Murkowski signs the bill into law. Aerial wolf control is permitted in almost 2,000 square miles of interior Alaska. Land-and-shoot killing is approved in a huge area east of Anchorage where 80 percent of the wolves are targeted.

2003 and 2004:  Alaska Board of Game expands wolf control to five areas covering more than 60,000 square miles.

January 2005:  120 scientists send a letter to Gov. Murkowski urging science-based management of Alaska's predators and prey.

January 2006:  Alaska Superior Court judge rules that the state's airborne wolf-control program is illegal because the state failed to follow its own rules in adopting the regulations. The state had not examined alternatives to wolf control, had not sufficiently evaluated prey population numbers and had failed to meet other procedural requirements. The Board of Game adopts emergency regulations to make the program consistent with the rules.

June 2006:  The American Society of Mammalogists passes a resolution calling upon Gov. Murkowski and the Alaska Board of Game to collect reliable data on populations of large carnivores and ungulates and to work closely with professional wildlife biologists to ensure the sound design of predator-control programs.

October 2006: Alaskans for Wildlife submits nearly 57,000 signatures to the state to put a new predator-control ban before Alaska voters. The initiative will appear on the primary ballot in August 2008.

March 2007:  Alaska Department of Fish and Game decides to issue more aerial-gunning permits and offer a $150 incentive, or bounty, for killing wolves. The bounty is ultimately dropped in the face of a stiff legal challenge.

May 2007:  Gov. Sarah Palin introduces legislation at the end of the legislative session that would remove many barriers to wolf control. The bills are referred to committee but the legislative session ends without any movement.

August 2008: Alaska citizens to vote for a third time on a ban on aerial hunting of wolves.


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