The Alaska Board of Game approved a proposal Friday that will let hunters take up to 80 grizzly bears in the eastern Interior in order to boost the number of moose available for hunters.
In some cases, the bears may be lured close through baiting, which is currently illegal for brown bears, board member Pete Buist said.
The proposal, which is almost certain to be controversial, also allows the Department of Fish and Game to authorize the harvest of hundreds of wolves in the region, which is along the Canadian border north and south of Tok.
The wolves can be shot by state-permitted hunters, either from the air or soon after landing, methods used in two other areas of the state.
The vote of the seven-member board was unanimous but followed heated discussion, Buist said Friday evening from Juneau where the board had just concluded a four-day meeting.
"There were people (on the board) who wanted to tackle this aggressively and soon, and there were others upset that it was too aggressive, but in the end it was unanimous," Buist said.
The board did not take much oral testimony on the proposal, but it had received many written comments, said Buist.
"Most of it was in opposition," he said. "Almost none of it was from inside of Alaska. There were a handful of letters from inside Alaska."
The proposal was born partly out of what board members heard at their meeting in Fairbanks in March.
"We had tons of people come before us from those upper Tanana villages to beg us to help, to do something" to increase the moose populations, he said.
The Department of Fish and Game has determined that moose populations in the two game management units involved, 12 and 20E, need to be raised significantly.
In 20E, north of Tok, for example, the goal is 8,000-10,000 moose, while the current population is estimated at 4,000-4,800 moose -- data that Buist said had been developed by the department and previous Game Boards.
The moose are needed by subsistence hunters in Tok, Tanacross, Tetlin, Northway, Mentasta and other villages, Buist said. But the moose up north are also meant for hunters in Anchorage and the Mat-Su area, where moose populations have "tanked," he said.
"We're trying to have a sustainable population to be utilized for food by anybody in the state," Buist said. This summer's large wildland fires in the region have only made it easier to sustain the target population of moose, he added.
The board limited the areas of the bear and wolf harvest to the southern portion of 20E and the northwest section of 12 in an attempt to stay clear of federal land, said Buist.
"There was a lot of heartache and consternation whether we were trying to institute bear and wolf control on federal areas, so we were very specific to note we were not trying to do this on Wrangell-St. Elias (National Park and Preserve) and the Tetlin (National Wildlife) Reserve," he said.
An estimated 135 grizzly bears are in the affected regions. The proposal, Buist said, allows the department to authorize a harvest of 81 grizzlies, leaving a minimum of 54.
Wolves in the region may number as many as 450, according to Fish and Game statistics. The proposal calls for a harvest that leaves at least 50 wolves alive, Buist said.
The department fully expects an outcry, especially that bears have been added to wolves as target predators, Matt Robus, the department's wildlife director, said earlier this week.
"Bringing grizzly bears in the equation is a whole new, extremely controversial issue," Robus said.
Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4582.