Alaska DF&G Enhances Wolf Control Program
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner Denby Lloyd announced enhanced efforts to reduce wolf populations in five areas around the state. Alaska's wolf-control program, now in its fourth consecutive year, involves volunteer pilots and shooters who track and kill predators in the winter months under special department permits. Removing wolves is one part of ADF&G's efforts to restore and increase selected moose and caribou populations which provide food for Alaskan families.
"Several factors have led to a low wolf take this winter, so we’re going to step up our efforts to meet the annual objectives in this important program," Lloyd said. The predator control program will be suspended on April 30th.
Department wildlife managers say a combination of conditions have made it more difficult for volunteer pilots and shooters. "Poor tracking conditions mean permittees have had a hard time locating wolves," Wildlife Conservation Division Director Matt Robus said, "and, of course, after several successful years, there are fewer wolves to find. On top of that, expensive fuel and long periods of poor flying conditions have kept pilots on the ground through what is typically a productive time of year to take wolves."
Commissioner Lloyd has directed Division staff to test additional efforts to increase the numbers of wolves taken in the last six weeks of this winter's program. ADF&G will immediately institute the following management actions:
- 1. Permit more pilots. The Department will grant permits to additional wolf control volunteers by contacting people who have applied, but haven't yet been permitted, and solicit qualified pilots and shooters to help in areas where they are needed most.
- 2. State incentive program. To motivate permittees to redouble their efforts and to help offset the high cost of aviation fuel, ADF&G will offer cash payments to those who return biological specimens to the department. Permittees will be paid $150 when they bring in the left forelegs of wolves taken from any of several designated control areas. "We can learn more about the wolf population age structure from these specimens," Director Robus said, "and that information will be useful in the years to come as we modify our program to fit changing circumstances." He explained that these cash payments are additional incentives to aerial control permittees, and are not bounties. "This program is a directed management action applied in a limited fashion in specific areas, available to properly-permitted operators, and yielding useful scientific information. In contrast, the bounties of past years were broad-scale efforts to extirpate animals across large portions of their ranges."
- 3. Help permittees find wolves. As conditions allow, the Department will charter flights for its biologists to spot wolves within wolf control areas. Agency spotters will then share that information with permitted volunteers, a technique proven effective in the past.
- 4. Consider direct state control activity. Finally, and only after these other techniques have been in place for at least two weeks, ADF&G will assess their success and consider using Department staff in helicopters to track and kill wolves in limited areas where conditions warrant. "Governor Palin has asked the Department to reserve state employees and private helicopters for use as a last resort," Commissioner Lloyd said. "But, with less than a month to go, if we find low wolf take persists in a specific area, we may deploy this last resort." Lloyd emphasized this method would be used only in areas where it has a reasonable likelihood of success and is not logistically prohibitive.
ADF&G's wolf control program focuses on five predator control areas that comprise less than ten percent of the state, including the Nelchina Basin, an area west of Cook Inlet, the mid-Kuskokwim Valley, the McGrath area and the upper Yukon/Tanana Basin. The Department's objective for this winter is a take of between 382 and 664 wolves. So far, at least 98 wolves have been killed in these areas by predator control permittees, hunters, and trappers combined. As expected, the wolf control effort has been more successful in some areas than others, but the overall take is below desired levels for this point in the season.
Robus cited the predator control program's success in recent years as one reason that wolves are harder to find this winter. Since 2003, more than 600 wolves have been removed, contributing to improving trends in several ungulate populations. For example, in the McGrath area, Division biologists have observed an increase in moose density and improved calf survival since predator control was reinstated.
Robus said the Division of Wildlife Conservation will evaluate the success of these supplemental wolf control techniques this summer and fall, with an aim to continuing the success of the program as a whole. In addition, the Division will consider offering training seminars over the summer and fall to increase the ranks of pilots, spotters and shooters qualified to handle the unique challenges of predator control in bush Alaska. "The pilots and other volunteers who have helped with this program are skilled and experienced," Robus said. "We look forward to bringing more Alaskans' talents to bear so we can improve the effectiveness of this effort."