By Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The state’s largest wolf control program was the target of a protest outside Alaska Department of Fish and Game Fairbanks headquarters on Thursday. The protesters organized by Alaskans for Wildlife want Fish and Game to immediately halt the long running aerial wolf kill in the Forty Mile River region, east of Fairbanks.
A group of about 50 protesters howled and chanted outside the Fish and Game office, expressing dismay with the annual Forty Mile aerial wolf kill.
The winter spring wolf hunt is aimed at growing the Forty Mile caribou herd, but recent Fish and Game research shows it hasn’t worked. The state plans to suspend the program next spring, not soon enough for protester and hunter Frank Maxwell.
”Limitations on caribou populations are not due to wolves or predation,” Maxwell said. “It’s due to nutritional stress as their studies have said. So it’s just wasting animals, wasting life and wasting money.”
Over a thousand wolves have been shot from aircraft in the state program since 2004, with the harvest ramping up in recent years. Fish and Game regional supervisor Darren Bruning said despite indications that habitat is limiting caribou herd growth, the state will continue the wolf kill another year, for research reasons.
“Having seven years of high intensity removal data to compare to the previous seven years of low intensity removal data is the most consistent reasonable and responsible approach,” Bruning said.
Bruning maintains the comparison data is important to all interests.
”Including the international, 40-mile harvest management coalition, and those who do not support predation control or are unsure about its benefit,” Bruning said.
Bruning said the program will halt in the spring of 2018 after which biologists will see how the caribou fare without wolf control. Protester Sean McGuire with Alaskans for Wildlife says continuing the wolf kill for another season, just for science, is wrong.
“I mean, these wolves are very intelligent, highly social creatures,” McGuire said. “To run an experiment on them when it’s not even gonna help the caribou herd, that is really outrageous.”
McGuire adds that the predator control program costs Fish and Game over thirty seven thousand dollars per wolf harvested, spending the cash strapped state cannot afford. The state’s Bruning emphasizes that the Forty Mile area wolf kill is only being temporarily halted. He could not say when it would resume.