Plan to boost Interior moose population could include predator control

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A task force appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles has recommended a compromise plan to boost Interior moose populations that could include killing bears and wolves near the village of McGrath.

Knowles said a year ago that he would not approve any predator control programs without further study. He said those studies should begin with the area around McGrath, and in June, Knowles appointed the six-member task force to look at the issue.

The proposal to be sent to Knowles next week also recommends the baiting of black bears to make them easier for hunters to kill and even the possibility of trapping and killing of bears by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Bears and wolves prey on moose and caribou.

Residents around McGrath and in other parts of the state have long asked the state to control the number of wolves to make more moose available for hunting. Opponents of predator control have argued in return that the killing of wolves is a simplistic approach to trying to maintain artificially high populations of moose and caribou for the benefit of human hunters.

The six-member group completed its recommendations Thursday after holding five meetings since the panel was formed last June. Knowles and Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue will decide whether to implement the recommendations. The Board of Game would also need to approve parts of the plan.

''I'm encouraged that we're actually moving forward,'' said task force member Mike Fleagle of McGrath, also a Game Board member and a longtime proponent of predator control. ''We've been watching this problem develop for years. At this point, we'll take anything we can get.''

Still, some critics of past predator control efforts who were at the meeting Thursday said they don't like the idea of implementing any plan to kill bears and wolves without more study.

Fleagle said McGrath residents would go along with the plan, which also includes severe limits on moose hunting to enable those populations to rebuild.

Leo Keeler, another task force member who has opposed predator control, also stood by the plan except for one point: a recommendation suggesting Fish and Game contract with a few local pilots to do land-and-shoot wolf hunting.

''I support the whole plan except for that,'' Keeler said.

The plan severely restricts hunting of moose and halves the number of moose the group expects the area to support.

The Game Board had earlier set a population objective of 6,000 to 8,000 moose for the 5,200-square-mile unit, in accord with the Legislature's intensive management law, which mandates that wildlife be managed to keep game populations as high as possible. The task force said the unit should support between 3,000 and 3,500 moose, with an annual harvest of 130 to 150 moose.

Fleagle said the plan is a compromise. His side gave up hunting opportunities, while those opposed to predator control admitted McGrath has a depressed moose population and allowed for some predator control.

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