• First ever proposal to kill peninsula wolves to increase moose populations
By Naomi Klouda
The first-ever proposal to hunt and kill Kenai Peninsula wolves from the air is one of the management options on the table for discussion when the Alaska Board of Game meets in November.
The Board of Game directed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to devise management plans that includes aerial wolf control. Moose populations have fallen below both the state’s population size objectives and the harvest objectives for more than a decade, and this has prompted the Board of Game to call for intensive management plans, said Fish and Game Biologist Thomas McDonough of Homer.
“Part of the process is for us, the department, to write intensive management plans to present to the board and to the public for comment,” McDonough said.
Fish and Game will have the plan available for public review 30 days prior to the meeting, scheduled for Nov. 11-14 in Barrow. The Board of Game is scheduled to vote on what it considers the best management plan at its meeting.
The department conducted aerial surveys in March 2010 on a portion of Game Management Unit 15A. Some 41-47 wolves were counted at that time, McDonough said. There have not been any other surveys on the Kenai Peninsula in recent years.
“The reason we had conducted the survey was due to the chronic decline in moose numbers, which was predicted by the department based on changes in habitat. Fifteen A has a rich history in wildfires that changes the habitat. This greatly benefits moose browse and increases moose numbers,” McDonough said.
The problem is that there hasn’t been a fire of any significant size in 15A for over 40 years, he added. “Without the regeneration, moose numbers are at a relatively low density. We know it’s definitely because of the habitat.”
No matter the cause, the state’s goal is to manage wildlife to achieve population size objectives and objectives for harvest numbers.
How to enhance the population of moose in 15A is the question before fish and game biologists. Before them is a directive to look specifically at aerial killing.
“It should be clear the Board of Game asked the department to make these plans; they are the group with the authority to implement the plans,” McDonough said.
Fish and Game is at work preparing three documents for both 15A and 15B. One is an intensive management plan. The second is a feasibility assessment. The third is an operational plan for how to conduct aerial wolf control and how to assess the progress.
“All three will be made public 30 days before the meeting,” McDonough said.
The wolf was exterminated by man on the Kenai Peninsula by about 1915, primarily by the use of poisons during the gold mining era and due to trapping, according to the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Refuge information. Wolves remained absent from the Kenai Peninsula for about 50 years (except for a few rare sightings) until they naturally recolonized in the late 1960s. By the mid 1970s, most wolf habitat was again occupied by wolves.
According to the refuge information, studies (1976-1981, 1982-1993) have focused on wolf-moose relationships, harvest, pack size and dispersal movements of wolves in the northern portion of the Kenai NWR. The Refuge supports an estimated 80-90 wolves in at least five to seven packs.
Valerie Connor, the conservation director at the Alaska Center for the Environment, said the BOG’s desire to expand aerial wolf killing shows its own agenda.
“There were some big fires on the Kenai back in the 1950s and ‘60s that resulted in an overall increase in the moose population as new areas of browse replaced forested areas,” Connor said. “This made for some plentiful harvests over the years, but as human development has encroached on moose habitat and the inevitable progression of plant life occurred, moose populations returned to a more typical number.”
Some on the BOG maintain that the above average population numbers can be obtained again, “if we can just get rid of those big bad wolves,” she said. Most scientists will agree that there are other reasons why those historically high numbers can never be reproduced, she said.
“Since the BOG is stacked with predator control advocates, they floated this idea about aerial wolf control on the Kenai at the last meeting, and though the area biologist and land managers were skeptical (for many reasons),” Connor said. “Plus, due to ‘time constraints, there isn’t even a plan yet. So unless you can afford to fly to Barrow and stay there for five days, you won’t be able to participate in this decision. This unfortunately is only one example of BOG abuses to the public process.”
To review the management plan when it is posted, go to http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=gameboard.main
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