Background and Recovery
Then and Now
The wolf may be one of Alaska’s most iconic creatures, but the state has a long history of killing them through various means. Early in the 20th century wolves were hunted with virtually no controls and bounties were common. For a short time after statehood wolves were viewed as a valuable trophy animal and virtually all control methods ceased. As game populations declined in the 60s and 70s, state-sponsored wolf control commenced and included aerial gunning. Today, although more closely regulated, aerial gunning and other wolf-control methods remain a controversial part of Alaska’s wildlife management efforts.
Key Recovery Milestones
The wolf’s fight in Alaska hasn’t been against extinction — the state’s wolf population is healthy, with estimates ranging from 7,000 to 12,000. Instead, their fight has been one against inadequately monitored control programs which aim to increase game populations through controversial methods. In the late 60s, Congress passed the Airborne Hunting Act, which banned aerial gunning, but the state of Alaska continues to exploit a loophole in this law to continue its wolf-control programs.
The programs have been halted a few times: twice when the then Alaska governors sought to evaluate whether the programs were scientifically and economically justified as well as socially acceptable (in 1986 and 1994) and twice by citizen ballot initiative (in 1996 and 2000). But Alaska state law allows the legislature to override a citizen’s ballot initiative three years after it passes and in 2003 the wolf-killing programs resumed and continue to this day.