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Fish and Game takes step toward predator control in McGrath

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Employees of the Department of Fish and Game will conduct spotting flights near McGrath to provide trappers with information on where to find wolves, the agency said Friday, announcing a predator control program for the Interior village.

The flights are part of a plan to boost moose populations over a 520-square-mile experimental management area.

The flights come after a unanimous vote by the Board of Game last week to kill wolves and move brown and black bears from the study area near McGrath. In approving the predator controls, board members said they were sympathetic to the pleas of McGrath-area residents that there aren't enough moose to put meat on their tables.

The department estimates there are 490 moose in the study area now. The board's objective is to boost the population to between 3,000 and 3,500 moose.

Hunters could then take 130 to 150 animals a year. McGrath residents have agreed to close the study area to moose hunting as part of a predator control program.

Commissioner Kevin Duffy said Fish and Game employees aboard the flights will be on the lookout for fresh moose kills, wolf tracks and other signs indicating where wolves are hunting.

''By increasing the effectiveness of local trappers we can immediately begin to address the moose management issue in cooperation with people who will most directly benefit from the results,'' Duffy said in a statement.

Mike Fleagle, chief of the village of McGrath and one of the main proponents of predator control, said the flights won't help much. Local pilots, himself included, already provide information to trappers.

''From our perspective, it is pretty meaningless,'' he said.

Duffy said Fish and Game in early summer will begin capturing and relocating bears in the study area to increase the moose calf survival rate.

After the trapping season ends in late April, the department will look at more options for reducing predation by wolves and bears. The agency did not specify what options might be considered.

Representatives of the Defenders of Wildlife say they're relieved Fish and Game has decided not to allow aerial shooting or land-and-shoot killing of wolves, at least for now.

Karen Deatherage of the Anchorage office of the wildlife group criticized the predator control program for McGrath as being ''ecologically unsound and scientifically unjustified,'' and said it will ''ultimately result in similar programs throughout the state.''

Last Friday, the game board approved two other wolf-control measures. The board said it would ask the commissioner to allow members of the public to use land-and-shoot hunting to kill wolves in the Nelchina Basin.

The board also approved a plan allowing hunters in Unit 16B, which extends from Skwentna to Tyonek, to shoot wolves from snowmachines as long as the machines aren't moving.

Fleagle said the board needs to give McGrath residents permission for land-and-shoot killing of wolves.

''If that happens, we could probably take care of the problem ourselves,'' he said.



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