© Yva Momatiuk & John Eastcott/Minden Pictures
Wolves in Alaska are under the gun like never before. The state's Department of Fish and Game in March began an unprecedented, helicopter-based, wolf-killing effort in the Upper Yukon/Tanana area, without providing the public time to comment on or question the plan. Within days Defenders of Wildlife sued to halt the program.
"The state conducted the most aggressive and unjustified aerial wolf-killing program to date on the borders of the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve," says Defenders' Alaska representative Wade Willis.
The National Park Service has been studying the preserve's wolves for nearly two decades to yield better information on predator-prey relationships in the area.
The park service was only given a few hours notice of the state's plans and immediately expressed concerns with their goal of taking hundreds of wolves. In a briefing statement, the park service said if the state is successful in reaching its goal, "This would leave one-to-two wolves per 1,000 square kilometers in the Upper Yukon Wolf Control Area, approximating the lowest known wolf population densities in Alaska." Upon learning of the state's plans, the park service requested a no-wolf-kill buffer zone around the preserve, but the state refused. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reluctantly agreed to try and avoid shooting any collared wolves that were part of the preserve's research efforts.
According to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Defenders, park service documents revealed that the control program came at the request of Gov. Sarah Palin. "Palin and her administration are showing complete disregard for the integrity of Alaska's national parks," says Willis. "This is an extreme response to what has never been more than an arbitrary target with no scientific backing. There is no biological emergency to justify this kind of action and the fact that the public was given no opportunity to comment on this plan before the spring board of game meeting makes this whole operation even more egregious."
In February, Palin appointed a new member with strong ties to the commercial hunting industry to the state Board of Game, which overseas the wolf-killing program. Palin's appointment came despite a call for more diversity on the board from 12 former board members, the tourism industry, conservationists and the Anchorage Daily News.
"Alaska wildlife should be managed for the benefit of all Alaskans, as state law requires, not only the minority who hunt," says Willis.
At press time, 251 wolves have been killed this season in the state's aerial-shooting campaigns.