Alaska wolf-control program offers cash to hunters

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Thu Mar 22, 2007 12:22am EDT

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Hunters will now get cash and other incentives to kill wolves under Alaska's predator-control program that aims to protect moose populations, state officials said on Wednesday.

Alaska's Department of Fish and Game announced it will give $150 for every left foreleg of a wolf killed in the five areas where state officials are hoping to cull packs.

The incentives are an extension of Alaska's controversial aerial wolf-control program, which allows hunters with permits to shoot the animals from aircraft.

The department said it will also seek to raise the number of permits for hunters who kill wolves from aircraft, fly state biologists to help find wolves for hunters and, if those efforts fall short, have state workers track and kill wolves by helicopter.

Department officials said the $150 payment is not a bounty but an incentive for hunters to collect specimens that will be used for biological study.

"The distinction we're trying to draw here is that in the bad old days bounties were put on things for elimination. They were broad-based," said Ron Clarke, assistant director of the department's Division of Wildlife Conservation.

The new plan, he said, is a directed effort that seeks to provide scientific information.

Clarke said the incentives and help were needed because only 114 wolves have been killed this winter in the five targeted regions of interior Alaska, far less than the department's goal of 382 to 664 animals.

High winds and sparse snow have made it difficult to track wolves from the air and high fuel costs have made it expensive for aerial hunters, he said.

One opponent of the wolf-control program rejected the department's description of the $150 payout.

"You can use whatever euphemism and call it an incentive or whatever double-speak trips your trigger but it strikes us as a bounty," said John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

"What the state is involved in here has more to do with animal husbandry than science, the elimination of one species to artificially inflate another."

The aerial-hunter program was started by former Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2003 and continued by his successor, Sarah Palin. It has prompted tourism boycotts and ballot initiatives.

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