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State delays Kenai wolf kill intended to lift moose numbers

Dan Joling

Kenai Peninsula wolves will get at least a year's reprieve from state-sanctioned killing.

State game officials say they will study the best way to boost the moose population in the area rather than immediately act on a proposal approved by the state Board of Game in January to expand predator control.

Doug Vincent Lang, acting director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said Tuesday there were gaps in the basic science foundation needed to begin predator management and later determine whether the actions succeeded in increasing moose numbers.

"I thought it was worthwhile to spend some additional time to collect that foundational science to inform how best to proceed in the future," he said.

John Toppenberg, a board member of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said from Soldotna that he welcomed the decision because he continues to disagree with the plan to kill Kenai wolves.

"What they had proposed really had no scientific logic behind it," Toppenberg said. "It was purely, 'Let's kill wolves in order to artificially inflate moose.' "

The Board of Game, a seven-member panel appointed by the governor that sets game seasons and bag limits, voted to extend predator control to two game units on the peninsula, continuing an aggressive approach to killing wolves, black bears and grizzly bears to boost moose and caribou numbers through liberal predator hunting and trapping seasons or professional culling, which usually means shooting them from the air.

The board voted to kill wolves in Game Unit 15A, the area west of Cooper Landing and north of the Sterling Highway, and 15C, which covers much of the peninsula south of Kasilof and west of Kenai Fjords National Park.

The decision was made over the protest of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and other groups that contend the board is dominated by sport hunting advocates interested in boosting ungulate populations for trophy hunters at the expense of other wildlife.

In the case of peninsula moose, critics said, the board ignored the main problem -- loss of habitat due to 60 years of wildfire suppression.

"It doesn't matter how many wolves you kill if (the moose) don't have anything to eat," Toppenberg said.

The Kenai Peninsula includes thousands of acres of national wildlife refuge and federal managers elsewhere have rejected predator control. The state could have begun killing wolves immediately on state and private land.

Vincent-Lang said the department has studies under way. The department this year fitted 50 adult cow moose in each unit with radio collars, transmitters and vaginal implants as part of a study to determine pregnancy and calving rates. The department wants to know if there are sufficient bulls to breed all available cows and whether nutrition is playing a role in keeping numbers down.

Biologists are attempting to assess the cause of calf mortality and determine the significance of predation by wolves and bears. Newborn calves, Vincent-Lang said, will be fitted with expandable radio collars; if they die during their first seven months or so, biologists will be able to quickly locate carcasses to determine cause of death.

The department also will conduct baseline population work, he said, to determine the number of peninsula moose and wolves.

He acknowledged that multiple factors, including habitat, predation and mortality by humans, affect the moose population.

"I think it's important to look at all three of those elements," he said.

Toppenberg said the studies will take at least two years. He expressed hope that the department will not start killing wolves in 2013

"I hope they wait for the full results rather than partial results of that study before making any kind of a decision to go ahead," he said.


By DAN JOLING
Associated Press