By Joel Gay
Anchorage Daily News
December 01, 2004
State game managers believe the effort, targeting more than 500 of the predators for death, should make moose and caribou more plentiful in coming years. The goal is to give hunters a better chance to fill their freezers.
Opponents say the program is unnecessary. They believe that the predator-prey balance in most of the state is within normal levels and that moose and caribou herds don't need human intervention.
"Alaskans need to get on the horn to the governor and put an end to this genocide," said Karen Deatherage, Anchorage spokeswoman for the national wildlife conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.
Calls for another tourism boycott have already begun.
Gov. Frank Murkowski paved the way for lethal predator control to resume shortly after he was elected in 2002 by stocking the Alaska Board of Game with advocates of wolf control and by signing legislation that allows private pilots to do the killing.
Working under state and federal permits, the pilot-gunner teams are not paid. Their compensation is the pelts of wolves they shoot, which can range in value from worthless to several hundred dollars, depending on quality.
After a decade in which the state virtually stopped performing lethal predator control, the wolf-kill effort began last winter. At the request of hunters, the Game Board has expanded efforts to four more game management units.
Pilot-gunner teams working around McGrath shot two wolves from the air last week.
The new plan also calls for killing some 80 grizzly bears, which can be more deadly than wolves to newborn moose and caribou calves. The board is allowing predator-control participants to lure the animals with bait _ a strategy that sport hunters can't normally use with brown bears.
Thousands of wolves were killed in the 1950s by government employees and by private hunters who earned bounties for each animal, which allowed game populations to soar.
This year's plan appears to be the biggest in decades, said Vic Van Ballenberghe, a wildlife biologist in Alaska since the early 1970s.
"Barring any unusual circumstances, there's every reason to believe it will result in the largest number of wolves taken (in predator control programs) since the 1950s," he said.
Several groups tried to halt the state's new effort by promoting a boycott of Alaska tourism last winter, and efforts have started again. Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based organization, placed an advertisement in the New York Times Sunday magazine last week asking people to stay home in 2005.
But the boycott didn't appear to have much effect in the past year, said Dave Worrell of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. The total number of visitors rose 9 percent from 2003, he said, with gains in cruise ship traffic, airline passengers and highway visitors.
"The bottom line is that we didn't see an impact," Worrell said. "I just don't think it was as widely publicized as they would have liked it to be."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard
News Service, http://www.shns.com.)