FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has postponed an aerial predator control program planned in a small area surrounding two Bush villages about 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks because of lack of snow and legal issues.
State wildlife biologists were planning sometime in November to shoot as many as 50 wolves from helicopters in a 1,360-square-mile area around Allakaket and Alatna, a pair of villages on the upper Koyukuk River where residents say predators are killing too many moose.
But department spokeswoman Cathie Harms said the aerial campaign is being pushed back to mid-to late-February. She cited lack of snow and daylight, as well as undefined “legal issues,” as the reasons why the the program was being delayed.
“Conditions are not ideal for tracking; the light is fading every day; and the legal issues we’re dealing with still haven’t been resolved,” Harms said.
Though she didn’t elaborate on what those legal issues were, Harms said even if they were resolved the department would be grounded because of poor snow conditions.
“You need fresh snow to track wolves,” she said.
The aerial predator control program is the initial phase of a five-year plan to eradicate wolves in part of game management unit 24B that was approved by the Alaska Board of Game in March. According to the plan, department staff will eliminate all the wolves in the area this year and shoot any new wolves that move into the area for four consecutive years after that.
“Department staff would be aiming to take 35 to 50 wolves in the first year and probably 15 to 20 every year after that,” Harms said. “We hope to have the whole program finished by 2017.”
The aim of the program is “to make more moose for people” by improving the survival rates of calf and yearling moose, Harms said.
The department estimates there are 25 to 50 wolves in the area, which is home to approximately 400 moose. The control area represents about 10 percent of Unit 24B and the area is accessible for hunters in the two villages.
While ADF&G studies have shown that bears, not wolves, are responsible for the highest mortality of moose calves in the area, local residents specifically asked the department to focus on wolves rather than bears because bears represent a commonly used alternative food source.