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Alaska wolves face sterilization, relocation

Alaskan wolves

Plan is bid to protect caribou

In this story:

November 19, 1997
Web posted at: 2:32 p.m. EST (1932 GMT)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) -- Wolves believed to be crowding an area of Alaska will be subjected to sterilization and relocation in a bid to protect a shrinking caribou population, the state Department of Fish and Game said.

The 21 packs in Alaska's Fortymile River region -- a lengthy network of creeks and rivers in eastern Alaska -- will be spared any wolf kills, department officials said on Tuesday.

Instead, the "alpha" or lead pairs of each pack will get vasectomies and tubal ligations to reduce reproduction under the plan. State biologists this winter will capture about 30 of the area's 150-some wolves, take them to a makeshift clinic for sterilization and then release them.

About 60 more wolves will be relocated to other parts of the state, under the plan.

The intent is to boost the population of the Fortymile River area's caribou herd, which is at 25,000 animals, only 5 percent of its historic high, officials said.

No killing

Past Alaska practices of killing wild wolves to boost game populations have been ruled out, officials said.

"It was pretty clear to us that the lethal wolf control of shooting wolves out of airplanes was probably off the scale of what was acceptable to most people," said Wayne Regelin, director of the department's Division of Wildlife Management.

The Fortymile sterilization-and-relocation plan, product of three years of research and negotiation by a diverse panel, was the state's only wolf-control program approved by the Department of Fish and Game.

Government programs to kill wolves were common in Alaska in past decades. But public attitudes about wolves have changed since then.

A short-lived wolf-control program in the early 1990s sparked an international outcry and tourist boycott. In one of his first acts when he took office in late 1994, Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles suspended the culling program.

In 1996, Alaska voters banned a form of air-supported wolf hunting, making it illegal to land an aircraft and kill a wolf on the same day.

Large wolf population threatens caribou

Without any action to reduce wolf predation, the Fortymile caribou herd may not rebound from its depressed state, said Frank Rue, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Rue.

The herd's troubles can be traced to the 1950s and 1960s, when the animals were overhunted by humans, he said.

An 18-member team, with hunters and representatives of native, environmental and tourism groups, came up with the Fortymile wolf plan. The team included representatives from the Yukon Territory's government and a native tribe there.

Alaska is the only U.S. state where wolves are not endangered or threatened.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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