Alaska suspends shooting wolves from the air

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:
FAIRBANKS– The Alaska Department of Fish
& Game on March 19, 2009 suspended shooting
wolves from a helicopter, after killing 84
wolves in five days to try to increase the
numbers of caribou and moose accessible to human
hunters in the Fortymile region.
Currently numbering about 40,000, the
Fortymile caribou herd reputedly stretched from
Fairbanks to White-horse, and included about
568,000 caribou in 1920, when first surveyed.
Subsequent counts have never found more then
46,000, and the 1975 count fell below 4,000,
but the Department of Fish & Game continues to
try to increase the herd to 60,000.

“The department pulled the plug on the
program one day after Defenders of Wildlife went
to court in Anchorage to file for an injunction
to stop it,” reported Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks
Daily News-Miner.
But DFG Fairbanks regional supervisor
David James told Mowry that the aerial shooting
was stopped only because wolves were becoming
harder to find, and about 80% of the $100,000
allocated to the project had been spent.
“After the first few days of an operation
like this the productivity curve falls steeply,”
James said.
“They couldn’t find any more wolves to
kill,” responded Defenders of Wildlife
representative Wade Willis said. “They ran out
of wolves; it’s plain and simple.”
Estimating that about 300 wolves inhabit
the Fortymile region, and hoping to reduce the
population to 88, the DFG expected to kill 150
by using a fixed-wing airplane to spot their
tracks, radioing in the helicopter to do the
actual gunnery. “Prior to the helicopter
strategy, the DFG relied on hunters, trappers
and private pilot-gunner teams in fixed-wing
aircraft who received permits from the state to
kill wolves in the area,” wrote Mowry, but the
private pilot-gunner teams had killed only 39 all
Private pilot-gunner teams and trappers
“can continue to take wolves until April 30, or
until conditions are such that planes can no
longer land to retrieve wolves who are shot,”
Mowry said.
More than 800 wolves have been killed as
part of the Alaska aerial wolf control program
during the past five years, but the annual toll
has been consistently far short of the DFG goals.
The wolf killing this winter focused on the
Fortymile calving grounds adjacent to the
Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, where
predator control is prohibited. The National
Park Service does not allow any kind of predator
control in the preserve.
“Many of those wolves have home ranges
centered in the preserve,” preserve manager Greg
Dudgeon told Mowry. “If a person traveling the
upper Yukon corridor doesn’t have the opportunity
to hear a wolf howl, I’m not doing my job,”
Dudgeon said.
Wrote Mowry, “The National Park Service
requested a no-kill buffer zone around the
preserve, but the state refused on the grounds
thatÅ it would be biologically and politically
The Fortymile wolf-strafing began a week
after the Alaska Board of Game authorized the use
of snares to trap bears in the name of predator
control, and the use of helicopters for
trappers to access bear habitat. The Board of
Game also allowed state personnel to use lethal
gases to kill orphaned wolf pups in their dens.
The underlying issue, pointed out Willis
of Defenders to Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage
Daily News, is that years of aggressive predator
killing, escalated under present Alaska governor
Sarah Palin, have failed to produce any
substantial increase in the Fortymile caribou
herd beyond approximately the present level, but
proponents of predator control continue to
believe that if they can just find a way to kill
even more predators, the herd will grow.
Predator control critics suspect that the
Fortymile caribou carrying capacity is not more
than 50,000, and that the 1920 count was either
grossly exaggerated or an aberration.

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