June 11: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on wolf control:

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

McGrath's beleaguered moose are now subject to Gov. Tony Knowles' penchant for deferring action until it can be matched to a neat consensus among special-interest groups.

A new team was formed toward that end last week. Appointees were presented the mandate of developing a wildlife management strategy for rebuilding the area's moose population to a level sufficient to support local subsistence users.

The new team has six members, including a pair of state biologists, several strong advocates for predator control in the area, as well as a national park enthusiast and a wildlife photographer whose call for protecting Denali's famed Toklat wolf pack recently cost him an appointment to the Alaska Board of Game.

Given the disparate views represented within the team, critics of the Knowles administration's delicate approach toward game management suggest the panel is doomed to fail. Some go as far as suggesting the governor's team roster was crafted to ensure no consensus is possible.

We hope those critics are wrong.

For many residents of McGrath, moose meat is not only a family dinner staple, but a subsistence necessity in a Bush village where shocking commercial food prices strain household budgets.

With the area's moose population ''severely depressed,'' to use Alaska Fish and Game's description, we strongly suggest McGrath residents don't need gestures, they need active game management.

There are tools that can be applied without risk of offending segments of the public. The area's moose habitat, for example, while generally good, could still be improved, according to Wayne Regelin, the director of the state's Wildlife Conservation office. Thinning the willows along gravel bars and other riparian areas might be useful, he said.

But habitat enhancements alone aren't likely to revive the moose population in Game Unit 19D. Moose aren't starving near McGrath. The presence of an estimated 1,500 moose in a habitat considered capable of supporting a moose population of 4,000 to 5,000 isn't explained by forage problems.

Wolves appear to be the controlling factor in this wildlife equation. In a game management unit where state biologists would ideally like to see 40 or 50 moose for every wolf, the current moose-wolf ratio is closer to 15 to 1.

Does the new management team, as presently constituted, possess the collective fortitude to embrace solutions likely to outrage wolf defenders?

Game Board member Mike Fleagle, McGrath's tribal chief, said recently that he's willing to try anything, including Knowles' latest consensus-building effort, to break through the existing impasse. ''This is at least a step forward,'' he said.

Keeler, the wildlife photographer, signaled Friday that he isn't, as some might claim, predisposed to torpedo any and all solutions dependent on curbing wolves.

''I have no problem at all with wolf control. It's where you apply it and how you apply it,'' Keeler told the News-Miner.

Though he made a point of observing the circumstances are quite different, Keeler said he supports the game management under way boosting the Fortymile Caribou Herd, including the accompanying wolf sterilizations and relocations.

Even if no team consensus is possible, Regelin said his boss, Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue, may gain something useful from the team's discussions.

Regelin, who's serving on the team, remains optimistic about reaching that desired consensus agreement, which he regards as the best hope for achieving a ''durable solution.''

''It shouldn't break down because none of these people are willing to kill a gnat,'' Regelin said. ''I believe we're got a group of smart people here who are willing to listen.''

Residents of tiny McGrath, whose voices are easily lost against the howls coming from the larger animal-rights community, have little choice but to hope the governor's appointees are truly prepared to set agendas aside in a good-faith effort at curbing local wolf appetites.

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