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Alaska authorizes aerial wolf shooting

Alaska has an estimated 15,000 wild wolves.
Alaska has an estimated 15,000 wild wolves.

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Environmental Issues
Anchorage (Alaska)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) -- Alaska hunters will be allowed to shoot wolves from aircraft for the first time since 1972 under a plan approved this week by the state Board of Game.

The board, which sets policy for state wildlife management, authorized the aerial wolf control program in limited parts of interior Alaska where local hunters say populations of moose and other game have been depleted.

"We've seen both wolf numbers increase dramatically and prey populations -- moose and caribou -- decrease dramatically," said Mike Fleagle, the board's chairman on Tuesday.

State officials do not want to revert to the days of wolf eradication programs, he said. But past state policies have been too protective of wolves, he said. "I just think it's gone way too much to the extreme, where we're deifying the wolves," he said.

Fewer than 200 of the state's 15,000 wild wolves will be killed under the program, which is to take place this winter and to involve shooting from aircraft as well as land-and-shoot practices, said officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Environmentalists criticized the plan.

"We're leaping back many decades into old practices, shooting wolves from the air," said Paul Joslin, a biologist with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

He and other activists argued that the Board of Game, a panel made up entirely of hunters, is acting contrary to the wishes of most Alaskans.

Voters in 1996 and in 2000 approved ballot initiatives banning aircraft-assisted wolf hunting, Joslin pointed out.

Alaska wolves are not classified as threatened or endangered, and hundreds are killed legally each year by trappers.

But wolf control -- killing wild wolves to boost game populations for hunters' benefit -- has long drawn heated opposition. The last aerial control program, conducted in the early 1990s, was halted by a threatened tourist boycott and other expressions of public disapproval.

"I know that this is going to be a real controversial program. There are strong feelings on both sides, and it's a clash of values," Wayne Regelin, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Game, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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