JUNEAU-The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that as of today at least 19 wolves have been killed by aerial hunters since the first wolf was shot on October 28, a number greater than all the wolves killed in November last year. The reported kills have all occurred in the Upper Yukon-Tanana predator control area.
"The season is off to a disturbing start," said Wade Willis, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "For years, the department has been setting wolf removal targets based on largely anecdotal information and placing the balance of prey and predators in jeopardy."
The aerial gunning season opens each year after Fish and Game officials complete an annual survey of moose populations in predator control units.
Defenders has asked Fish and Game for this year's wolf target numbers, but has not received the information. In the prior years, the Fish and Game has set goals to eliminate as many as 300 wolves in this area. Hundreds more are targeted in the other designated predator control areas.
For the past five winters, Fish and Game has issued aerial hunting permits to private citizens for five control areas. Aimed at reducing wolf and bear populations that compete with hunters for moose and caribou, the purported goal of predator control is to benefit rural subsistence hunters by attempting to keep big game populations high. Yet the state conducts many of its predator control programs in regions where resident subsistence hunters have to compete with out of state trophy hunters for big game.
Conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, contend that wolves are being used as the scapegoat for low moose and caribou populations - pointing out that the Fish and Game is not addressing other factors that are impacting the herd, such as climate change, which could affect the area's carrying capacity. In addition, basic scientific standards are not being met, such as collecting accurate population surveys, especially for predators and even for the big game species.
According to the Alaska chapter of The Wildlife Society, a local branch of wildlife biologists, the problems facing the state's predator control program stem from Alaska's 1994 Intensive Management Law.
In a policy statement, The Wildlife Society criticized the law for placing too great an emphasis on predator control, stating that the legislation behind today's predator control programs is "counterproductive to sound wildlife managementŠwill result in needless and undesirable deterioration of Alaskan wildlife populations, including both predator and prey species."
"Aerial predator control programs have been conducted for five years. It's time for the department to conduct an honest review of these programs," said Willis. "Instead of using science, the Board of Game is gambling with the long term health of Alaska's wildlife resources, basing its decisions on opinion and anecdotal information."