Wolf Song of Alaska News

Alaska Preserve Looks for Answers in Wolf Kills

Mary Pemberton / Associated Press / March 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - State biologists shooting from the air killed a pack of research wolves, including two collared wolves that were not to be targeted under an agreement with the National Park Service.

The wolves were killed even though it appears the shooter in a helicopter knew two of them were wearing radio collars used to track the movement of wolf packs inside the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve along the Canadian border.

The wolves in eastern Alaska were shot as part of the state's predator control in which more than 1,000 wolves and nearly as many bears have been killed to boost moose and caribou numbers.

Preserve Superintendent Greg Dudgeon said Friday that he got a call from David James, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's regional supervisor, informing him that all four members of the Webber Creek Pack had been killed on state land outside the preserve.

Dudgeon said the wolves likely took a foray outside the boundaries, as they often do, and met up with the state employees doing predator control.

"He (James) did share that the shooter did see the two collared wolves among those four animals and for whatever the reason, ended up shooting them, all four," he said.

The two wolves were collared just last month, he said.

Dudgeon said he hoped to speak Friday with Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd about what occurred. He wants to know specifics, such as when and where the wolves were shot.

James, who was in Juneau Friday and discussed the situation with Lloyd, said the initial information he received indicated that the shooter saw the collars. However, he said, that was not conclusive. James said the state agency would be looking at its predator control protocol to see if it is flawed.

"We want to address this and see if there is something we can do to step up the guidelines to avoid this situation in the future," James said.

Dudgeon welcomes the review.

"We want definitely to know what took place and how the department plans on avoiding that kind of mistake in the future," he said.

Fish and Game released a news release Thursday that described the predator control operation as a success. It said state personnel had mistakenly killed two collared wolves on state lands just outside the preserve. It blamed the deaths on a "possible collar malfunction or other problems" that prevented the staff from identifying the two as collared wolves.

The Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve has been conducting wolf research since 1993 as part of a National Park Service mission in place since 1916 to protect park resources and provide opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife, Dudgeon said.

"Nothing has changed for us," Dudgeon said. "What has changed is how the state manages its wildlife and particularly predators."

Retired wolf biologist Vic Ballenberghe, who worked for Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service for more than 25 years, said he has seen a change in how Fish and Game is conducting predator control.

"They do have this new policy, and that, by golly, we are going to exercise our sovereign right and it doesn't matter that these wolves spend most of their time on the federal preserve, if and when they come out we are going to shoot them to the greatest extent possible," Ballenberghe said.

Dudgeon said Fish and Game was asked to leave the preserve's wolf packs alone when conducting predator control. Fish and Game said it needed to take at least seven wolves.

The state wants 185 wolves killed this winter and spring to remove predators from the calving grounds of the Fortymile caribou herd. More than 80 wolves were killed last winter.

Dudgeon said the state went ahead with its plans, even though spring counts showed a 38 percent drop in the number of wolves since the fall - the largest drop since monitoring began in 1993. There were an estimated 42 wolves in the preserve last fall. Now, there are 26, Dudgeon said.

He planned to request an emergency closure of the preserve to sport hunting and trapping.

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