Judge halts Alaska wolf bounties

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:

ANCHORAGE–Alaska Superior Court Judge William Morse on March
30, 2007 ruled on behalf of Friends of Animals, Defenders of
Wildlife, and coplaintiffs that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game
does not have the authority to pay bounties to aerial gunners for
killing wolves.
However, Morse added, the Alaska Board of Game can
authorize bounties. Morse held that the 1984 repeal of a state law
allowing bounties applied only to administrative actions of the
Department of Fish & Game, not to actions of the Board of Game.
Thus, while the Morse verdict suspended a bounty program introduced
on March 21, it left the possibility that the Board of Game may
reinstate it, or start a new bounty program.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game for the winter of
2006-2007 authorized hunters, trappers, and aerial gunners to kill
up to 664 wolves in five target areas, with a goal of killing at
least 382. Through March, the toll was just 151. The department
then sought to encourage the 111 registered aerial gunners and 82
aerial gunnery pilots to hunt more wolves by offering $150 per wolf
they killed.
“Critics of the program said the state has overestimated the
number of wolves, based on outdated information,” summarized
Associated Press writer Rachel D’Oro. The official state wolf
population estimate is markedly higher than recent federal estimates.
“We think it would be a great idea for the state to put the
money from the bounty program toward conducting a proper survey of
the wolf populations before any more wolves are shot,” said
Defenders of Wildlife representative Tom Banks.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game on April 3, 2007
suspended culling wolves in the Nelchina Basin, near Fairbanks, the
area historically generating the most political pressure to kill
Because the Nelchina Basin is accessible from Fairbanks, it
is among the most hunted parts of Alaska. The Board of Game has for
decades sought to keep the Nelchina Basin wolf count to less than a
third of the carrying capacity of the habitat to keep moose plentiful
for human hunters.
From 1989 to 2006, however, the Nelchina Basin wolf
population resisted reduction to the decreed levels. When the moose
count dropped by half, wolves were blamed.
Aerial gunners shot 33 wolves in the Nelchina Basin during
the winter of 2006-2007, while hunters and trappers killed 62, with
almost a month left of the wolf hunting season. Aerial gunners had
killed just 55 wolves in the other four targeted areas combined. Of
the 660 wolves killed by aerial gunners in the five years since the
present wolf culling program started, 288 were killed in the
Nelchina Basin.

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