Alaskans slaughter caribou “protected” from wolves

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1994:

FAIRBANKS, Alaska––While
Alaska sponsored the slaughter of at least 92
wolves to make caribou more plentiful in the
Delta area southeast of Fairbanks, officially
known as Game Management Unit 20-A, the
caribou wandered into a free fire zone on
March 5––as they may have done for years.
Independent wildlife expert Dr.
Gordon Haber discovered while doing an aer-
ial survey on March 5 for Friends of Animals
that up to 1,500 caribou––30% of the Delta
herd––had moved out of 20-A into an area
east of Cantwell where intense roadhunting
and hunting from snowmobiles has been
underway since early January. Hunters in the
vicinity claimed a 90% success rate.

“Tracking conditions were perfect,”
Haber explained. “The caribou were at the
end of a fresh trail that came right over the
mountains, from one of the Delta herd’s
major wintering areas.”
“The state has justified its wolf con-
trol program on the failure of the Delta herd
to increase after two years of no public hunt-
ing,” said Stephen Wells of the Alaska
Wildlife Alliance. “Now the question is if
the Delta caribou have been migrating in and
out of public hunting areas all along.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton told Alaskan officials on June 9,
1993, that data the state furnished on the
falling fecundity of the Delta herd pointed
toward a shortage of bulls and a relative
abundance of elderly, sterile cows, indica-
tive of human hunting rather than wolf pre-
dation. If wolves were causing the Delta
caribou to decline, Clifton argued, they
would be killing older animals––not the
biggest, strongest males. Clifton also noted
that “Trophy poaching alone, even by sever-
al separate rings, probably couldn’t account
for the loss of as many bulls as seems to have
occurred. But there’s also an extremely
strong market for caribou antlers in Asia, for
medicinal purposes,” which would increase
the hunting pressure on males.
At deadline the wolf kill in 20-A
appeared likely to fall short of the goal of
150, probably because the population was
never that big to begin with, but the effort
continued. One trapper, Jim Masek, boasted
of keeping from 500 to 1,000 snares set at all
times. In mid-February, he said, he killed 12
wolves in a single day, who were caught in a
maze of snares he set around a dead moose on
November 17. Since Alaska has no trap
checking requirement, he didn’t get back to
check the sets for three months.
On February 17 the Sierra Club
Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife,
the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and Wolf
Haven International sued Alaska, seeking to
overturn the regulation that classifies shooting
wolves after walking 300 feet from an air-
plane as “trapping,” thereby evading the fed-
eral Airborne Hunting Act.
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