State rejects citizen bid for changes to Alaska predator control

The state's top wildlife official has denied a citizen challenge to Alaska's predator control policies.

A group of 150 Alaskans in mid-August asked Gov. Bill Walker to replace deadly "intensive management" predator-control methods with nonlethal ones, according to a letter signed by residents from Juneau to Fairbanks including marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, a longtime activist on the issue, especially with regard to Denali wolves.

The letter also asks Walker to prohibit predator control within 5 miles of federal conservation units and eliminate the so-called "Judas wolf" program in which collared wolves lead state biologists to wolf dens targeted for extermination.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, in a response directed at Steiner, rejected all three requests in a letter last week.

Nonlethal methods such as relocation and sterilization show limited success, both in terms of predator survival and improved moose numbers, Cotten wrote. The radio-collar program is used only in one part of the state — the Yukon-Tanana area, officials say — as "an efficient way to take wolves in an area where wolves are difficult to locate," he said. The prohibition near federal lands would be a "substantial reduction" for predator control on state lands given the amount of federal lands here.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that 200 wolves, 150 black bears and 10 brown bears die every year to predator control, the citizen letter states. Those numbers don't reflect looser hunting and trapping regulations for predators and "the number of pups and cubs that die after being orphaned by the program."

Activists have blamed the state's predator policies on the potential loss of a famed, long-studied wolf pack near Denali National Park.