New statewide land-and-shoot wolf ban takes effect

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A new law took effect at midnight Thursday prohibiting hunters and trappers from tracking wolves with an airplane and landing and shooting them on the same day.

Alaskans voted in the November general election to restore the ban on same-day airborne wolf hunting around the state.

Voters rejected some tinkering made by legislators last year to a 1996 ban. It allowed land-and-shoot hunting in areas the state Board of Game designated as needing predator control.

That included four Game Management Units around the Interior -- the area east of McGrath in Game Management Unit 19D, the Tanana Flats and adjacent foothills in GMU 20A, the area around Delta Junction in GMU 20D and a large portion of GMU 13 in the Nelchina Basin.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks. It was an effort to work around a refusal by Gov. Tony Knowles to initiate any kind of lethal wolf control program in Alaska.

The elimination of land-and-shoot wolf hunting is just another tool being removed from the tool box, said Fairbanks fur buyer and trapper Joe Mattie.

''Today, there's no real predator management at all in Alaska,'' Mattie said from his Fairbanks shop, Arctic Raw Fur Co. ''Trappers take a few; hunters take a few.

''This is the only real tool we have,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''When you start taking away tools like that pretty quick, the other tools aren't strong enough to deal with it.''

Eliminating land-and-shoot hunting in the four Game Management Units won't have much of an impact on the state's total wolf harvest, estimated to run about 1,100 animals a year, said Bruce Bartley, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.

Trappers and hunters account for most of the wolves killed in Alaska, Bartley said. Land-and-shoot hunters take about 10 percent of the total harvest, or around 100 wolves a year, he said.

''We're talking about a pretty small select group of people,'' he said of same-day airborne wolf hunters. ''It's not something the average weekend warrior does. It's a lot more complicated than people think.''

Mattie said 100 wolves will kill a significant number of moose or caribou and most of the wolves killed by land-and-shoot hunting are taken in remote areas where there are no trappers.

''There's no question it's going to account for a lot of wolves not being harvested,'' he said.

The state doesn't know how many wolves have been killed in the four intensive management areas since July 1 when the Legislature's revised law went into effect. Biologists believe the harvest has been low.

Area management biologist Toby Boudreau in McGrath had heard of only a few wolves killed by same-day airborne hunting in Unit 19D.

Sparse snow cover in much of the Interior has made land-and-shoot hunting difficult because pilots have no place to put their ski planes, Boudreau said.

Low light conditions also make tracking wolves nearly impossible. Most land-and-shoot hunting is done in February and March, Boudreau said.

''You can't see the tracks in the trees and it's hard to tell differences between old and new tracks,'' Boudreau said. ''What the light does is create a shadow in the track.''

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