Board of game to take up wolf control in McGrath

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Board of Game will put lethal wolf control on the forefront of its agenda, a move that could turn around eight years of protections for the predators.

Board members agreed to take up the thorny issue of wolf control during a special meeting on March 6 to consider ways to aid in rebounding moose populations near McGrath.

Lethal wolf control has been a hot-button issue pitting environmentalists against hunters and those who depend on game for subsistence.

McGrath has been at the center of the state's wolf control debate as residents have asked since the early 1990s for state assistance in culling wolf populations that prey on the moose they depend on for food.

This would be the first meeting for six of the seven game board members appointed by Gov. Frank Murkowski, who has supported resuming lethal predator management in the state.

''It looks like a pretty sure thing. (But) I think sometimes the devil is in the details in terms of how the public will react,'' said Joel Bennett, a representative of Defenders of Wildlife which has been a critic of such predator control measures.

Former Gov. Tony Knowles called a halt to the state's wolf-control program shortly after taking office in 1994. He refused to authorize the killing of any wolves during his eight years in office but did approve more expensive relocation and sterilization programs.

Previous game boards have approved two predator control programs in the state including one in McGrath. Neither have ever been carried out.

The game board met by telephone conference Tuesday to schedule a special meeting to consider a wolf control experiment in a 560 square mile area of Game Management Unit 19D east.

Department of Fish and Game staff outlined a plan to eliminate 35 wolves and relocate bears from the area beginning March 15. If approved, the plan would run through June 2003.

Board members will consider several methods of wolf control including the more controversial land and shoot and helicopter hunting methods.

Department staff would use other data on moose calves to determine if the plan works. If a predator control plan were successful moose numbers should begin recovering by 2004, said David James, of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

People in McGrath, Nikolai, Telida and Takotna depend on moose for food. Moose harvests in Nikolai and Telida declined by 60 percent between 1984 and 1995 and recent poor salmon runs have added to the food problems.

Research by the state Department of Fish and Game showed that predation by wolves and bears feeding on moose calves was a key problem.

Current moose harvests in that area are about 80 to 90 moose per year but an intensive management plan would increase the moose harvests to 130 to 150 per year, James said.

Board member Mike Fleagle said if the program were successful in the small portion of Game Management Unit 19D east, it could be expanded to other areas of the state.

Ron Somerville, a board member from Juneau, said a special meeting on wolf control in McGrath is needed to detail for the public any plan the board adopts.

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