FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Game approved an increase in a buffer zone to protect wolves that stray from Denali National Park and Preserve.
But the board also put a time limit on the measure, warning it could be eliminated in two years if Gov. Tony Knowles doesn't move forward with a predator control program to boost moose populations in the McGrath area.
The sunset clause ''keeps the issue alive,'' said Game Board chairman Greg Roczicka of Bethel.
The McGrath wolf program, which was crafted by a Knowles-appointed task force and approved by the governor, restricts moose hunting and encourages local hunters and trappers to kill more bears and wolves. If locals are not able to reduce bears and wolves significantly and if research shows predators are to blame for moose declines, Fish and Game could start killing wolves and bears.
Board members expressed skepticism Monday that the governor would ever allow state wolf kills, even if research shows it is warranted.
''We've been at odds for some time,'' said board member Mike Fleagle of McGrath. Tying the increased buffer zone to predator control is a matter of self-preservation, he said.
The board increased the no-hunting, no-trapping buffer zone outside Denali from 19 square miles to 100 square miles to protect the Toklat wolf pack. The Toklat wolves are popular with visitors to Denali.
Fleagle and others made it clear that if Knowles does not follow through with predator control, the wolf buffer will go away.
The predator control program for McGrath would be the first state wolf killing program since 1994.
It would be the state's first official bear control program, according to Wayne Regelin, the state's director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
During the two-day meeting in Fairbanks, the board approved a series of measures to set the McGrath plan into motion. But again, it's up to the governor how quickly the plan happens.
''I have every hope in the world'' that the state is serious about predator control, Roczicka said. ''I'm getting levels of assurance I've never gotten before and a much higher level of commitment.''
Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue called the decisions Monday good wildlife management.
''They are each appropriate for each situation and show Alaskans respect a broad range of values for our wildlife.''
Rue said repeatedly throughout the meeting that lethal wolf and bear control would be much easier for the public to accept if he could show that the board was also taking steps to protect wolves in another part of the state.
Board Vice Chair Greg Streveler said he was finally convinced by numerous appeals made during the meeting by Rue.
''It was time to start taking leaps of faith,'' he said after the meeting.
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