FAIRBANKS — National Park Service officials are fuming about the elimination of an Eastern Interior wolf pack by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last week, including a pair that were wearing radio collars.
On Feb. 21, the state agency shot all 11 members of the Lost Creek pack near Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. That included the pack’s alpha pair, which had been fitted with park service collars as part of an ongoing research project.
The wolves are in an area adjacent to the preserve that has been targeted by the state for aerial predator control, which is part of an effort to boost moose and caribou numbers. The area includes calving grounds for the Fortymile Caribou Herd, said Doug Vincent-Lang, acting director for the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation.
Vincent-Lang said in a voice message to the News-Miner that the Lost Creek pack, along with four wolves from another unnamed pack, were shot outside the boundaries of the preserve.
“This is basically within our predator control program in an area we’ve seen benefits from that predator control program,” he said.
Yukon-Charley Superintendent Greg Dudgeon said the shootings are a setback for a long-term study of wolf behavior that began roughly 20 years ago. He said the Lost Creek pack had been monitored for the past seven years as part of the study, which looks at wolf migration patterns, denning habits and population changes.
Dudgeon said state predator control efforts last spring killed 36 wolves in the area, reducing the population in the preserve by more than half.
“With the loss of packs and collared animals, frankly it makes it difficult to do that work and maintain those sets,” he said.
It isn’t the first clash between the state and park service over aerial wolf shootings. The Department of Fish and Game shot two collared wolves in 2010 near Yukon-Charley, which the department attributed to “complicating factors” that included a possible collar malfunction.
Dudgeon said there used to be an informal agreement between the Department of Fish and Game and park service to avoid eliminating entire wolf packs near the preserve, particularly collared animals. He said that arrangement “sort of went by the wayside” about five years ago.
Without assurances that its research subjects won’t be shot, the long-term study is in flux, park service officials said.
“It certainly puts a crimp on it,” said Jeff Rasic, chief of resources for the preserve. “You need a critical mass of data to do this.”
Vincent-Lang said the Board of Game reviewed the wolf-control program for the area at its meeting last month in Fairbanks, and decided it should continue. He said the program will start up again this month.
“The board reauthorized this program to continue and it’s our intention to continue with the program,” he said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.