Predator control, Alaska-style

 

In Alaska, it's once again time for one of the state's major rites of spring -- the aerial shooting of wolves. In five management areas around the state, Alaska's Department of Fish and Game has decided that there aren't enough moose and caribou, and that the answer is to shoot more wolves.

In the Fortymile Region near Tok, the state hopes that a total of about 185 wolves will be killed (about two-thirds of the present wolf population in the area). On Wednesday, Fish and Game employees killed four wolves from the air, including two that National Park Service biologists had recently fitted with tracking collars as part of a 16-year study -- despite the state's promise that it would not kill any collared wolves. Oops.

Fish and Game's explanation, reports the Anchorage Daily News, is that a "collar malfunction" prevented employees from ID'ing the collared wolves before killing them. The NPS supervisor in charge of the collaring project doesn't buy it:

Yukon Charley Superintendent Greg Dudgeon said he'd spoken to David James, regional supervisor, on Wednesday night. "My understanding from the phone call last night was that the shooter, whoever that person was, did see the collars," Dudgeon said. "They were aware of the collars."

Perhaps the shooting was a not-so-subtle statement of states' rights. The National Parks Traveller blog reports that Alaska has recently made other moves to assert its right to control wolves across the state, even in national parks:

The shootings come less than two weeks after a particularly contentious Alaska Board of Game meeting when it comes to wolves and national parks. While the board was asked at one point to expand a no-take wolf buffer zone in an area surrounded on three sides by Denali National Park and Preserve, the board completely removed the buffer. And the state agency also did away with a regulation that required Alaska game officials to obtain Park Service permission before they conduct any predator control on parklands.

Meanwhile, in other predator-control news, the state just shot two more wolves near Chignik Lake; they were suspected of having killed a local schoolteacher. Testing determined they didn't have rabies. And a 76-year-old Anchorage man shotgunned his neighbor's chihuahua this week after it came sniffing around his yard one time too many:

Lowell Mueller leveled a semiautomatic .410-bore shotgun loaded with bird shot out an opened window and shot the chihuaha on the street at a corner of his property, police Lt. Dave Parker said.
"I really didn't mean to make a killing shot on it. I just wanted to tickle it, is all I did, and I missed tickling it," Mueller said.

Since Alaska's predator control program began in 2003, aerial gunners have "tickled" more than 800 wolves out of a statewide population of 7,000 to 10,000. No word on the chihuahua total.

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