Anchorage, Alaska - Two men face numerous charges related to aerial wolf hunting and Alaska's predator-control program.
Thirty-eight-year-old David Haeg of Soldotna and 41-year-old Tony Zellers of Eagle River each face five counts of shooting wolves from a plane, two counts of unlawful possession of game and one count of lying about where they shot the wolves.
Alaska State Troopers say in March, Haeg and Zellers killed nine wolves outside the legally permitted aerial wolf hunting area and even falsified paperwork about where the wolves were killed.
"We expanded the boundary, not to increase the number of animals that were taken, but to allow the permitees to find them within the boundary," said Cathie Harms of the state Department of Fish and Game.
But wolf biologist Dr. Paul Joslin says enforcing the hunting boundary will be even tougher down the road since the Department of Fish and Game expanded the area where permit-holders can catch wolves. The area now totals more than 32 million acres, or two times the size of the Kenai Peninsula.
"If you extend the control area over tens of thousands of square miles, as this current Board of Game has done, then it really puts it in the hands of the bounty hunters to do whatever they want. It's going to be very, very difficult for enforcement to be able to control these kinds of things in the future," Joslin said.
Haeg and Zellers both pleaded not guilty during arraignment Tuesday. Their next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Haeg is also charged with two counts of trapping in closed season and one count of failure to salvage game. Troopers say he left operational traps and snares in the field after the season had ended. They also found an unsalvaged wolf carcass in one of the snares.
Haeg's plane was seized as part of the investigation and may be turned over to the state permanently if he's convicted. Both Haeg and Zellers pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Tuesday.
Fish and Game officials say the permit-holders are allowed to keep the wolf hides. The bodies are examined by Fish and Game so they can determine the animal's health, take measurements, etc.