Protest promised if state approves predator control

Posted: Friday, March 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Alaska can count on a tourism boycott if wolves are killed to boost moose populations for hunters, the president of a national animal rights group told the Alaska Board of Game on Thursday.

For every dollar you spend to kill a wolf, we will match in launching an offensive,'' said Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals, headquartered in Darien, Conn.

Feral flew across the country to Anchorage to urge the Game Board to reject predator control including killing of wolves and translocation of black bears on 520 square miles near McGrath.

Community leaders in McGrath and surrounding villages flew 220 miles south to urge the board to follow through on previous plans to increase the moose population.

Steffen Strict, representing the McGrath Native Village Council, said the wolf population is out of control near the village where a loaf of bread costs $4.50 and residents count on game for putting food on the table.

Moose meat is necessary for feeding my family,'' Strict said.

The Game Board is considering predator control in what has been dubbed the Experimental Micromanagement Area within Game Management Unit 19D. Previous boards have approved predator control in the unit. A committee appointed by former Gov. Tony Knowles compromised on the smaller area.

Predator control would help protect moose calves during their critical first two months of life when up to 60 percent are killed by wolves and bears. The goal is to increase moose numbers so hunters can harvest 130 to 150 animals.

Fish and Game Department biologists testified that the 490 moose in the study area produce about 344 calves annually. Black bears kill 100, wolves kill 90, grizzly bears kill 43 and less than a dozen die from unknown causes.

Just more than 100 survive, replacing the 98 or so adult moose killed in roughly equal numbers by human hunters and predators.

Forty-five people testified Thursday. At the end of the evening, board Chairman Ben Grussendorf of Sitka ordered members Ron Sommerville of Juneau and Ted Spraker of Kenai to work with department staffers to draft a recommendation no later than Monday morning. The board is meeting through Wednesday. Gov. Frank Murkowski would have the final say on a predator control program.

Donne Fleagle, speaking on behalf of MTNT Ltd., a village corporation representing McGrath, Takotna, Nikolai and Telida, stressed the importance of moose meat to residents.

There is nothing more important to our people than a healthy moose harvest,'' Fleagle said.

She said villagers would be willing to forgo hunting in the area if they had a commitment to also remove predators and allow the moose population to build.

Feral and independent wildlife biologist Gordon Haber said the Fish and Game Department has ignored scientific review that's skeptical of the situation at McGrath.

Feral said McGrath is only the first area that will be considered for predator control. She also questioned the need for harvesting more moose.

No one is claiming that McGrath residents are beginning to starve, or anything close to that,'' she said.

Feral promised high-profile advertisements in major newspapers urging a tourism boycott of Alaska mirroring the one in the early 1990s prior to the cancellation of wolf control programs.

Joel Bennett, a former Game Board member and a spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife, said it was hard to comment because critical details of a predator control program were unknown, such as how long it would last. He suggested the board consider a combination of less drastic measures, such as moving predators, sterilizations, or airlifting village hunters to available caribou herds, before killing wolves.

But most afternoon testimony called for the board to take measures at McGrath, then extend predator control to other areas.

Rescue the moose, then come and help us,'' said Vernon Logan of Skwentna.

Mike Tinker, chairman of the Fairbanks advisory committee, said the Game Board had no choice but to recommend the predator control measures no matter what public opinion says. Alaska law declares that the highest and best use for game is consumptive use.

Follow the law first,'' Tinker said.

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