Board of Game orders predator control plan for area near Skwentna

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Game on Wednesday ordered the state Department of Fish and Game to draw up plans to reduce the number of bears and wolves in the area surrounding Skwentna.

The move is in response to a sharp drop in the number of moose in the area.

If such a plan is approved it would bring wolf control, and almost surely another political wolf war, to the area across Cook Inlet from Anchorage.

Some hunters at the board's meeting in Anchorage applauded the move, though they said political opposition would likely halt any predator control program. Critics said the board once again took steps to kill wolves without first establishing a real need.

Fish and Game Department biologists told the board that the moose population in the area, known as Unit 16B, has declined by 48 percent from 1990 to 2001, to an estimated 3,230 to 4,360 moose.

That's below the 6,500 to 7,500-moose objective set by the board under the state's intensive management law, which directs the state to take strong measures to rebuild game populations for hunting.

Herman Griese, the Mat-Su area biologist for Fish and Game, laid out options ranging from improving habitat by setting fires to liberalizing brown bear hunting. But he said most would not work without some form of predator control.

In its report to the board, biologists estimated 119 wolves in 13 packs roamed Unit 16B during fall 1999. Bears also eat moose, but Fish and Game was less sure of bear numbers in the area.

Mike Fleagle of McGrath, who ended his term on the board Wednesday, made the argument for predator control.

''This whole discussion about habitat and prescribed burns is just a big smokescreen,'' he said. ''I still think when you've got a predator issue, you've got to deal with it.''

The board was split, with board members Ben Grussendorf of Sitka, Julie Maier of Fairbanks and George Matz of Anchorage calling for more study. They said they were particularly interested to learn whether poor habitat might be limiting the moose population.

Ultimately, six of seven board members voted to get a plan. The department will present a plan at the Board of Game meeting in March in Fairbanks. The plan will detail the number of wolves that should be killed and the method that should be used, along with recommendations on how to reduce bear numbers.

Matz was the lone vote opposed. He said he thought predator control limited the board's options and would be controversial and expensive.

Board members acknowledged that no lethal predator control plan would likely go into effect during Gov. Tony Knowles' last year in office. Knowles has blocked wolf-kill programs, saying he would support them only if science showed it was necessary and the public supported the idea.

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