Knowles won't approve wolf kill programs without more study

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles says he won't approve any wolf kill programs around McGrath and the Nelchina Basin without more study.

The governor also urged the Alaska Board of Game to protect wolf populations that are valuable for wildlife viewing and to rule out killing bears in efforts to boost moose and other game populations.

Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue will appoint a working group to study predator control if the Game Board agrees to the proposals, the governor said Thursday.

But predator-control advocates accused Knowles of stalling.

''I'm not surprised,'' said Board of Game member Mike Fleagle, who is also chief of the McGrath Native Village Council. ''To be honest, I think this is another way to avoid dealing with the issue.''

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said Knowles was avoiding one of his duties as governor -- managing game for a sustained harvest.

''The moose population there has crashed under his watch,'' Kelly told the Anchorage Daily News. ''He'll stand by until the last moose is eaten by wolves. Then he'll hold a press conference.''

But Paul Joslin with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance said Knowles was taking a wise approach to an emotional issue.

''Before making a decision on something as volatile as wolf control, it's so important to have good information,'' Joslin said. ''He's clearly recognizing the interests of all Alaskans.''

The Game Board last month approved a wolf control program for McGrath in efforts to augment moose numbers in the area. The board tentatively approved a predator control plan for the Nelchina basin to increase caribou numbers, but that is pending review at its March meeting.

Both programs need the governor's support before they can be implemented.

Under the governor's plan, wolf control would be studied first in McGrath.

Killing wolves is a possibility, Knowles said. If the process works there, then a similar group would study the idea of wolf control in the Nelchina basin, a popular hunting area northeast of Anchorage.

Knowles said his plan focuses on the long-term conservation of wildlife and habitat and takes into consideration a broad range of wildlife management values, from hunting to wildlife viewing.

But first, Knowles said he wants the Game Board to ban trapping around Denali National Park and Preserve to protect the Toklat, Sanctuary and Headquarters wolf packs. He also wants the state to establish additional bear-viewing areas like the McNeil River area.

''It's time to establish a significant area for the protection of wolves,'' Knowles said. ''This has never been done before in the state of Alaska.''

Fleagle said he thinks the working group is doomed from the start, because consensus on wolf control is almost impossible.

Lynn Levengood, a Fairbanks attorney and wolf control advocate, said the state went through the exercise of a working group in the early 1990s, which failed.

''Already been there and done that,'' Levengood said.

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