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State wants helicopters to rescue wolf-kill program
Anchorage Daily News


March 12, 2007
Monday AM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- With the state's wolf-kill program severely behind schedule - costly fuel and uncooperative weather have grounded many volunteer pilots and gunners - game managers want state helicopters to come to the rescue.




They need a decision from Gov. Sarah Palin to make it happen.

State biologists wanted at least 382 wolves killed before the snow melts. Snow allows pilots to track them.

But gunners have killed only 38 wolves so far this winter, said Matt Robus, wildlife conservation director.

March, with long daylight hours and ample snowfall, has proven to be one of the better killing months. But the clock is ticking, Board of Game members say. And if the state doesn't meet its goal, the four-year program could be set back.

The controversial program - mostly in Southcentral and the Interior - is designed to help hunters by killing the wolves that eat moose.

Volunteer pilots and gunmen have done all the shooting, eliminating about 550 wolves since the program began. There are 7,000 to 11,000 wolves in Alaska, the state estimates.

Helicopter gunners would be more efficient for shooting wolves, board members said.

But the last administration drew the line at allowing helicopters, said Cliff Judkins, Game Board chairman. It was too politically volatile, Judkins said.

Also, former Gov. Frank Murkowski thought the program would be less controversial if local volunteers did the killing instead of state biologists. Volunteers also can benefit by selling pelts.

This winter, private pilots have complained they can't afford to fly because fuel is expensive, Robus said. Also, some areas haven't had enough snowfall, while others have lost snow cover to blistering winds, making tracking difficult, he said.

Fish and Game officials have met with Palin's staff to discuss getting the governor's approval to use state biologists and state helicopters. Palin hasn't had much time to consider the question, said spokeswoman Sharon Leighow. "She's aware it's a viable option but she hasn't made up her mind."

The state owns five helicopters that could be used when they're not rescuing people or fighting fires, Leighow said. Also, the governor might consider renting choppers from the private sector.

Using state helicopters could cost from $200,000 to $300,000, cutting into other parts of the program, Robus estimated.

The cost of doing nothing are high, Robus said. Wolves reproduce with large litters. If enough aren't killed, they can flourish, reducing moose numbers. Moose populations have increased in two of the five areas, in part because of the wolf kills, state biologists said.

John Toppenberg, head of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said he still wouldn't support the program if helicopters were used. The state has never proven there's a biological emergency necessitating protection of moose, he said.


Contact Alex deMarban at ademarban(at)
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