Two wolves wearing National Park Service radio collars that were killed during the state’s predator control program in the upper Yukon-Tanana region earlier this month were shot by state wildlife biologists “due to a series of misunderstandings” and neither agency acted inappropriately.
That was the amicable conclusion officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and National Park Service reached after a meeting to review the incident on Tuesday in Anchorage.
“Our department had a protocol in place to avoid this situation, but unfortunately, in this case, it didn’t work,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said in the release.
The two collared wolves were part of the Webber Creek pack of four wolves that were shot and killed from a helicopter on March 17 as part of the state’s aggressive predator management plan in the upper Yukon-Tanana region. The wolves were shot on state land about 2.5 miles outside the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve northeast of Fairbanks.
Though it is not under any legal obligation to do so, the state had agreed not to shoot any collared wolves that were part of a research study in the preserve. The Webber Creek Pack was one of seven packs in the study.
The park service provided the state with a list of frequencies of all wolves the agency had collared as part of the study and telemetry equipment to identify wolves wearing active radio collars.
“Due to a series of misunderstandings, the Webber Creek pack frequencies were not in the hands of the Fish and Game team conducting the control program,” the press release issued Tuesday read.
After noticing the collars, the biologists attempted several times to hear signals from the collared wolves and, hearing none, concluded that the collars were inactive before shooting the wolves.
Lloyd dismissed any notion that the state was misled by the park service in any way.
“Rumors of the Park Service providing incomplete frequency lists or non-functioning equipment are not true,” Lloyd, the ADF&G commissioner, said.
Likewise, Sue Marsica, regional director for the National Park Service in Alaska, absolved the state of all blame in the incident.
“There was no indication of improper actions or intent on the part of the staff of either agency,” she said in the release.
On at least two other occasions, state wildlife biologists avoided wolves wearing NPS collars that were located outside the preserve using information provided by the park service, the release noted.
Both agencies will review a list of recommendations made today by Fish and Game officials “that will allow a more complete understanding of each other’s operations and the development of improved field protocols relating to predator control,” the release stated. Specifics of those recommendations were not included in the release.
The two collared wolves were among 15 wolves killed over a three-day period from a helicopter by state wildlife biologists as part of the state’s predator control program in the region to reduce predation on the Fortymile Caribou Herd and moose.
The program was suspended March 19 because of a lack of fresh snow but state officials say they will shoot more wolves if more snow falls.
The state could take up to 70 more more wolves, according to the release. The program will be suspended for the year on April 30.
The park service, meanwhile, was considering a possible closure to the general hunting and trapping seasons in the preserve because the elimination of the Webber Creek Pack has reduced the number of wolves in the preserve to lower numbers than normal at this time of year.
The release issued Tuesday did not say if the park service was still contemplating a closure to the trapping and hunting seasons.