A Friends of Animals Report: Wolf Control in the Fortymile Region
Special Update based on interview with Dr. Gordon Haber in Alaska
January, 2005 — The Fortymile program, authorized in November 2004, is now in final stages of preparation. This, the latest in a series of wolf control programs authorized in Alaska since the autumn of 2003, covers 6,600 square miles of the Fortymile region, about a hundred miles east of Fairbanks.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has already received aerial hunting permit applications from at least eight private pilot-gunner teams, and might soon issue permits to begin the wolf-killing in this area. Friends of Animals is doing everything possible in the Alaska court system to try to prevent this from happening.
Estimates at this time would be based largely on guesswork, but if the Fortymile killing does begin, permittees are likely to shoot up to 100-200 wolves this winter, and (factoring in the wolves’ recolonization) similar numbers in each of the next four or more winters. Hundreds of additional wolves will be shot each winter in the four other control programs that are already underway elsewhere across the state.
The Fortymile control program stands out from the others in several ways; yet it shares the same absence of biological justification, beginning with the unsupported claims about moose and moose-hunting problems.
Use of radio collars
This is the first of the five control programs in which radio collars would be used. ADF&G will deny that anyone would directly track the groups with radios; direct radio tracking isn’t necessary, however, for biologists to derive information from the collars in order to make the killing easier in this area.
The collars would allow state biologists to gather information about the movements, territories, and current group sizes of these wolves. Biologists can then pass this information to the aerial-gunning teams, enabling the teams to choose the best areas within which to track wolves through the snow.
As of early January, snow conditions in the Fortymile region were highly conducive to tracking wolves. Wolves were traveling chest-deep in the snow in some areas, incurring a potential double-whammy from aerial hunters: Wolves might be unable to flee the approaching aircraft in such snow; and in it, their deeply-rutted trails are more easily observed.
Looking the other way
The Fortymile control area includes federal as well as state lands. The Fortymile National Wild and Scenic River Corridor follows most of the Fortymile main branches and major tributaries throughout the area. Wolves travel the frozen river routes regularly during the winter, and so will the aerial hunters who want to find and kill them. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management administers this national area but has elected to look the other way instead of using its authority to keep aerial hunters out.
The National Park Service is doing much the same, refusing even to politely remind the state that at least several large family groups of wolves, residents of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, commonly travel into the adjacent Fortymile control area. Aerial hunters would have a relatively easy time finding these relatively large groups, because of their more obvious snow trails.
A final betrayal?
From 1997 to 2001, state biologists chased Fortymile wolves with helicopters in order to apprehend and sterilize the alpha pairs, and remove the other members of each family group to locations hundreds of miles away. Many — especially the bewildered young — became easy fodder for hunters and trappers in their new, unfamiliar surroundings. The state claimed that it wanted to increase the number of Fortymile caribou — which has now more than doubled — and that it would then allow these wolf populations to recover, and even surpass their previous numbers. Three years later, the state is reneging on this promise.
Some of the sterilized wolves that survived the terrible ordeals of seeing their family groups ripped apart in the earlier control program are still alive in the Fortymile. If the newest plan proceeds, they may face a final ordeal of being blasted away with shotguns from above.