The Alaska State Board of Game voted unanimously Monday to approve aerial wolf predator control on the Kenai Peninsula.
The two proposals, 35 and 36, for Game Management Units 15A and 15C respectively, call for intensive management on the Peninsula with the goal of increasing moose populations.
The proposals still have to be processed through the legal system, but they were put on the board’s priority list that also includes a proposal for intensive management in Unit 26B, which includes Deadhorse.
“(Unit) 15C will be the top priority to be completed through the legal process,” board vice-chair Ted Spraker said.
The next priority is Unit 15A, followed by 26B, Spraker said. Since the proposals were expedited, the soonest anything would happen would be early March, Spraker said.
The decision to pass proposals 35 and 36 came after a lengthy discussion and public comment period last weekend during the statewide Board of Game meeting in Anchorage. The discussion amongst the board was not a matter of if, but how, Spraker said.
“There wasn’t much debate on the need to do it, it was kind of how to do it,” Spraker said. “We talked about letting the public do the aerial shooting, we talked about wolves being the primary predator that we needed to address, we talked a lot about the (Kenai National Wildlife) Refuge.”
Spraker said although the predator control might be a short-term fix, the long term fix deals more with the refuge and habitat enhancement.
The majority of Unit 15A resides on the refuge.
“The long-term fix, at least in the northern part of the Kenai (Peninsula), is to do habitat enhancement,” Spraker said. “And that is going to be for the refuge to address. But in the mean time, the main thing was we wanted to reduce the number of wolves just to give ourselves some time to look at doing some of these habitat projects that are the long-term fix.”
Refuge manager Andy Loranger said during the last 50 years, the refuge has been involved with enhancing habitat for moose in a variety of ways. In the mid-to-late 1960s through the 70s and early 80s, he said the refuge used mechanical habitat manipulation, and more recently, prescribed burning.
“As you can imagine, there are challenges with both of those techniques in terms of applying them to the land,” Loranger said.
Mechanical manipulation, Loranger said, involved tree crushers, and in the early days, even the use of bulldozers with large heavy chains in between, to create openings and conditions that favored hardwood regeneration. The regeneration of hardwood trees, like birch and aspen, provides ideal and nutritious habitat for wintering moose.
The proof, he said, is the effects seen after the fires of 1947 and 1969.
“The 1947 burn was about 300,000-plus acres and the ‘69 burn was roughly 80,000 acres,” Loranger said. “And so the populations of moose on the northern Peninsula really responded to those fires and the habitat, what we call early seral habitat that was generated — especially hardwood regeneration, species like birch and aspen.”
The result of fires creating a beneficial habitat for moose has led the refuge to do some small-scale habitat enhancement with some smaller fires in the backcountry. Although the burns seem to work, it is not as simple as just starting a fire, Loranger said.
“What we’re all challenged with is how to do this in a way that we’re not dealing with the catastrophic wildfire that threatens communities and people and their properties,” he said.