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Story Last modified at 9:38 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, 2011

9 wolves killed on military base
Some question scope of predator control among two packs

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

State and military wildlife authorities have killed most of the wolves thought to roam military lands between Anchorage and Eagle River.

State biologists, working with military personnel, shot three wolves and trapped six more starting in January, according to Mark Burch, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's regional wildlife conservation supervisor in Anchorage. A tenth wolf was killed by a vehicle last fall on the Glenn Highway.

The short-term "wolf removal effort" was considered a success by the state. It is wrapping up now.

Wildlife officials decided last year to target the Anchorage-area wolves following reports of unusually aggressive wolves not only killing pets but threatening people on military lands and in nearby Eagle River subdivisions.

Wolves treed a pair of women who went for a run on base with their dog last summer. In November, a male jogger told military police that several wolves surrounded him. A wolf also reportedly killed a beagle in Powder Ridge in October, and a wolf was suspected in the death of a sheep in Chugiak.

Before this winter, authorities estimated that maybe a dozen wolves roamed the base and a wide area from Ship Creek to Peters Creek and perhaps beyond.

Burch said that while pinpointing wolf numbers is difficult, he believes there are about four animals still left.

"We never intended to extirpate wolves entirely," he said. Wildlife authorities hope wolves will return to the area, and "as they do, we hope people will avoid feeding them or allow them negligently to get pet food or garbage or even pets. Of course, nobody wants to lose a pet."

Biologists think people may have been feeding the wolves based on the way some approached vehicles without fear like they figured something tasty would be tossed out.

The wolves posed an immediate threat to public safety so speed was of the essence, Burch said.

There have been no reports of wolf-related problems since January, he said.

"I think it's a good sign."

But some question the state's decision to target so many wolves.

The Chugach State Park Citizens' Advisory Board sent Burch a letter on March 23 challenging the need to remove all the wolves in the area. The board also expressed concerns about the state's failure to give the public a chance to weigh in on wolf-control plans.

The Anchorage-area wolves are thought to belong to two packs with different appearances: the so-called Ship Creek pack, black wolves ranging north along the east side of the Glenn including Chugach State Park; and the Elmendorf pack, gray wolves found on the west side of the highway and ranging north.

It was wolves from the Elmendorf pack that were thought to be attacking dogs and threatening people around the base, noted Gary Gustafson, chair of the park advisory board. But the wolf-control program didn't discriminate.

"We are therefore concerned that ADF&G may have overreacted to the public threat of wolves in the Anchorage area and has chosen to remove all wolves, regardless of their human threat potential," Gustafson wrote.

One of the dead wolves – a male shot on the north part of the base – was black.

Wildlife officials say they had no way of knowing exactly which wolves were involved in the incidents involving people and pets. Only two of the members of the local packs wore collars but neither had been tracked recently.

It would have been impossible to target just some wolves with traps, Burch said, so the state and military targeted them all.

Burch said that normally the state would take public input for such an operation but that public-safety concerns created the need to "act in a timely manner."

Those concerns would have trumped any public opposition to the plans to go after the wolves anyway, he said. "We had to do it."

State biologists and military personnel will be removing the traps used to target wolves soon, before bears start coming out of hibernation. But they will continue to monitor wolf activity, Burch said. State and military wildlife staff have always had authority to kill animals that pose a threat to public safety.

The Alaska Board of Game this week rejected a proposal to open a year-round wolf hunting season across Chugach State Park, Eagle River and Eklutna. State biologists had recommended the more limited step of opening the park,s upper Ship Creek drainage to wolf hunting.

State and JBER officials issued safety recommendations to the public as part of a press release about the wolf removal effort: Children should always be accompanied by an adult and pets kept on leash when recreating in bear and wolf country; secure pets and livestock; don't leave out garbage, pet food or other attractants that might draw wolves into neighborhoods. Report wolf sightings or encounters on or near base to the base dispatcher at 522-3421 or call the Division of Wildlife Conservation Information Center at 267-2257 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 30, 2011.