Wolves Under Assault in Alaska

Classified as "big game" and "furbearers" in much of Alaska, wolves can be trapped, snared, and chased with snow machines and airplanes, then shot at point blank range. "Wolves are being killed in Alaska in greater numbers, over larger areas, with more deception and more direct involvement of [Alaska Department of Fish and Game] biologists," says Gordon Haber, an independent wildlife biologist who has been studying wolves in Alaska for 42 years and is a longtime critic of the state's wolf management policies.

Since 2003, aerial permit holders have killed almost 700 wolves in Alaska in a supposed effort to boost caribou and moose populations for hunters. However, aerial wolf control in Alaska remains highly controversial. Alaskans have twice approved initiatives to ban land-and-shoot hunting of wolves, but the state legislature unfortunately authorized the game board to restart the programs after the 2-year initiatives expired. The most recent incarnation of aerial predator control allows gunners to shoot wolves from the air, or land first and then shoot. It has been expanded to five areas of Alaska, some of which also allow the aerial shooting of bears. Another measure to prohibit the practice is slated for the November 2008 ballot.

The lethal ground assault on wolves in Alaska is just as brutal, and saturation neck snaring is a common practice in the state. In April, two wolves were spotted in Denali National Park with snares around their necks. The animals were legally trapped on state land outside the park. They then escaped from the snares—either by breaking the cables or chewing through them—and returned to Denali, their faces and necks swollen from the embedded snares. An Associated Press article described the scene: "The large gray [wolf] has a neck wound where the snare has cut into the muscle, creating a flap of skin that hangs down. The black wolf's face is so swollen he now resembles a bear."

While these animals escaped, death by a strangling snare is ghastly—particularly for wolves, who have evolved thick musculature to protect their trachea and common carotid arteries. A victim often struggles for hours, causing a thick suffusion of bloody lymph fluid to accumulate beneath the skin of his or her head and neck. Trappers who skin animals who have died this way refer to them as "jelly heads."

Meanwhile, though wolves are ostensibly protected within the park, the moment they step outside its boundaries, they become fair game to hunters and trappers and risk this violent death. At least three traplines were set this winter outside of the northeast boundary of the park, and as many as 19 wolves have been trapped there, including four radio-collared wolves. Denali Park biologists were able to remove the snare from one of the two wolves, but as of publication time, the other wolf remains missing and is believed dead from the embedded snare.

For $15, any person with an Alaska driver's license can purchase a trapping license that legally allows the killing of an unlimited number of wolves, of any age or sex, from October or November through April in most areas of the state. Though Alaska's aerial wolf hunting program garners significant public debate, this deadlier ground assault on wolves with snares, traps and guns goes on year after year, often on federal lands, including national wildlife refuges. Haber encourages all Americans to object to the brutal mismanagement of Alaska's wolves; action alerts and contact information are available at http://www.alaskawolves.org/.