JUNEAU -- State biologists didn't disclose that 14 wolf pups were killed in their dens, and critics are claiming a cover-up to avoid upsetting voters who will decide an initiative curtailing the state's predator control program.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists shot the pups in early June instead of leaving them to likely die, and didn't initially inform the Alaska Board of Game or ever tell the public.
Gordon Haber, a frequent critic of the state's wolf control program, claims the shootings were illegal because a state law prohibits the killing of wolf young in their dens.
The board authorized biologists in March to kill wolves if necessary on the southern Alaska Peninsula to protect a caribou herd considered to be in trouble.
Biologists shot 14 wolves from a helicopter. On the ground, they discovered and killed the pups, which were orphaned by the helicopter shooting.
Officials did not mention wolf pups to the Board of Game before the shooting, and afterward did not publicly disclose that they'd killed pups.
Instead, the department issued a press release stating: "Wolves from three packs were shot from a helicopter by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff."
The pup shootings came to light after Haber, an independent wildlife researcher, questioned one of the biologists about whether lactating females had been shot, and whether there were pups.
"These guys knew how controversial and inflammatory that would be, and that's why they never said anything about it," Haber said.
Doug Larsen, the wildlife division director, said the Board of Game order allows "all wolves" to be taken from a specific area, including pups.
"We knew going in, as most everyone knows, springtime is a time when you're going to have reproduction. The Board of Game recognized that," Larsen said.
Board member Bob Bell supports the wolf control program but now wishes the biologists had brought up pups.
"We're having enough trouble with this predator control thing in terms of P.R.," he said. "Certainly if we had anticipated they would have had a denning situation, we would have wanted to know that."
Joel Bennett is co-sponsor of an Aug. 26 ballot initiative that would allow the shooting of wolves and bears only in a biological emergency. He has filed a request for all state records relating the June shootings.
Larsen said pulling all the records together would take until Aug. 19.
That's only a week before Alaska voters decide whether to change the state's predator control program so that only Fish and Game biologists would be able to shoot wolves and only in a biological emergency.
Nick Jans, who with Bennett wrote the ballot initiative, criticized the state for the timing, the denning and the state's failure to tell the public, which he called a "cover-up."
"They broke a state regulation, and they set themselves up to do it," he said.
Their organization, Alaskans for Wildlife, did not oppose this year's wolf control. State biologists were doing the killing, and that was what the organization wanted.
But they said this emphasizes the importance of passing the initiative to limit wolf control to state employees, even though they're the ones who killed the pups.
"If this is predator control practiced at its best, what do you think is going on with the private guys?" Jans said.