FAIRBANKS — Crews from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shot 18 wolves from the air this week near Allakaket in the third year of a program to boost moose populations in the upper Koyukuk River drainage.
The wolf-control program is to continue as long as weather permits, said Cathie Harms, a spokeswoman for the department. The goal is to reduce the wolf population to as low as possible in an area of about 1,360 square miles near Allakaket and Alatna to allow more moose to be hunted by humans, according to a report by the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
She said the crews use a fixed-wing airplane to spot wolves and call in a helicopter, from which shotgun-wielding agents take aim. The bodies are recovered afterward, she said. The area about 180 miles northwest of Fairbanks is mostly owned by Native corporations.
The wolf-control program, approved in 2011, came about because the moose harvest near the two villages had become increasingly difficult over the previous 15 years. Up to 60 wolves were believed to be within the area before the program began. In 2012, the Fish and Game killed 23 wolves.
It snowed earlier in the week and with the extended daylight hours, the conditions for tracking wolves from the air were good, she said. While black and grizzly bears are the main predators of moose calves in the area, a 2011 report said, there are "strong cultural taboos in the area concerning bears," which prompted the department to leave the bear population alone.
Bears are believed to be the main predators of calves, but wolves are believed to be the main predators of moose that are more than 1 year old, particularly yearling bulls.
The feasibility study said that because the area is about 10 percent of Unit 24B, the killing of the wolves is not expected to have a significant impact on the overall wolf population in the 13,500-square-mile unit. The report predicted that within 10 years, the moose population close to the villages would increase by 300 to 350 animals.
The cost of the program has varied by year depending upon whether the conditions for tracking wolves were good. In 2012, when 23 wolves were shot, the program cost about $200,000.
Because it is limited to 1,300 square miles, the wolf control program "is simply a reallocation of the moose resource from wolves to humans in a confined area," the feasibility report said, not necessarily leading to an overall increase in moose numbers in the larger region.