ANCHORAGE -- Gov. Tony Knowles has not yet decided if he will allow the state Department of Fish and Game to take steps to reduce the number of wolves near the Interior village of McGrath, according to spokesman Bob King.
But the McGrath Native Village Council isn't waiting for the governor to take action. The council has has quietly started a program to pay trappers $100 for each wolf taken legally.
McGrath-area residents say wolves have been preying on moose, sharply reducing the number of moose available for subsistence use.
The Alaska Board of Game approved a wolf-kill program for McGrath at its January meeting but no program can be implemented without the support of the governor.
Mike Fleagle, the council chief and a member of the Game Board, calls the payment program an incentive to help subsidize trapping. Critics call it a wolf bounty.
The Huslia Tribal Council started a similar program about a month ago in the Koyukuk region, paying trappers and hunters $300 per wolf, said tribal employee Kathleen Sam.
The wolf payments -- made in addition to whatever trappers are paid by fur buyers -- are a sign of mounting demand for wolf control in some regions of rural Alaska.
Fleagle says the wolf payment program started last week in McGrath. He insisted it is not a bounty because ''we're not trying to get rid of all the wolves'' -- but called it subsidized trapping.
The wolf control plan approved by the Game Board calls for reducing the wolf population from an estimated 55 wolves to 20.
Fish and Game biologists predict that the moose population would recover if enough wolves are killed and crash if they are not.
Moose have declined from 1,900 in 1996 to 1,400 last year, according to Toby Boudreau, an area biologist with Fish and Game.
Other biologists are challenging Fish and Game's conclusions.
In a report released Tuesday, biologist Gordon Haber, paid by Friends of Animals, said relatively high hunter success rates and good calf survival indicate that moose may not be declining as rapidly as state biologists say.
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