Fish and Game tight-lipped on killing of collared wolves

FACTORS: "Possible collar malfunction" is only one explanation.

March 27, 2010 

FAIRBANKS -- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Park Service are still posturing over the killing of two wolves wearing park service collars during the state's aerial assault on wolves in the upper Yukon-Tanana region earlier this month.

Regional supervisor David James with the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks has finished an investigation into the shootings of the collared wolves, which were among 15 wolves state wildlife biologists killed from a helicopter during three days as part of its aerial predator control program in the Fortymile region.

But department spokeswoman Cathie Harms said details of how and why the wolves were shot will not be released until state officials meet with the park service on Tuesday, at the earliest.

The meeting will be "to discuss the results of the report and the best way to avoid conflicts in the future," Harms said.

The killings of the two collared wolves on March 17 was a mistake the department attributed to "complicating factors," one of which is a "possible collar malfunction," according to a Department of Fish and Game news release following the incident.

The two collared wolves, along with two other wolves without collars, were shot just outside the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, which borders the state land on which the department was conducting its aerial control effort.

The pack was one of seven the park service has radio-collared wolves in as part of a research project to study their movements and behavior.

The park service says it provided radio frequencies for all seven collared packs to the state so its crews could identify them and asked the state to avoid shooting any collared wolves, an informal agreement the state agreed to.

Yukon-Charley superintendent Greg Dudgeon said he is still considering a possible closure to the general hunting and trapping seasons in the preserve because the elimination of the Webber Creek Pack has reduced the number of wolves in the preserve to lower numbers than normal at this time of year.

Biologists had detected a 38 percent drop in the preserve's wolf population before the Webber Creek Pack was eliminated, Dudgeon said. The park service has a mandate to manage for "healthy" wildlife populations, he said.

The park service held a public meeting in Eagle on Monday to discuss the possible closure with residents in the Yukon River village that borders the preserve.

Dudgeon said opinions ranged from "the state needs to stop predator control" to "the state should take as many wolves as possible." There were also people who said the park service should do nothing, he said.

"I will review the comments and think on what has been shared in the context of our data and the NPS mandate to manage for healthy wildlife populations in the Preserve," Dudgeon wrote in an e-mail Tuesday following the meeting.

Eagle Mayor Bo Fay, who sits on the village's state fish and game advisory committee, was at the meeting on Monday. He said most of the residents in the village support the state's aerial wolf control program and would like the park service to study the low moose numbers in the preserve rather than the wolf numbers.

"You don't eat wolves," Fay said.

Fay said the park service is painting a "dire picture" about the wolves in the preserve when that's not the case.

"They say there's only 26 wolves in the preserve and I know a guy who saw more than 20 in one pack a few years ago," he said.

The different mandates the state and federal agencies have make things "challenging," Harms said. The state is trying to reduce wolf numbers to increase moose and caribou herds, which it's mandated to do by the state Constitution while the park service maintains a let-nature-take-its-course management philosophy.

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