Alaska is home to the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the United States. These magnificent creatures roam in diverse habitats across the state, from barren arctic tundra to lush temperate rainforests.
Not only do wolves play an essential role in a healthy ecosystem, but they have also become vital to Alaska’s tourism economy. Travelers from around the world come to the state to see wolves in their natural habitat.
No Protection in Alaska
The State of Alaska classifies wolves as both big game animals and furbearers -- this means they can be legally hunted and trapped. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, more than 14,000 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers between 1994 and 2005. But according to the Department’s Game Harvest Summary, the actual number could be significantly higher since unreported takings could equal or exceed the reported number.
Alaskan wolves were never added to the Endangered Species list since populations have never declined to the extent they have in other states. While efforts continue to restore wolves to their former habitats in the lower 48 states, Alaska continues to pursue wolf control programs -- including the barbaric practice of aerial gunning.
A Bloody History
Alaska’s wolves have had a bloody history. Before gaining statehood, the U.S. Government killed hundreds of wolves each year -- entire packs were shot from airplanes and poisoned throughout the state. Large numbers of wolves were also killed by private citizens in search of bounties offered by the government.
After Alaska became a state in 1959, federal wolf control programs ended and state programs took over -- primarily through aerial gunning.
In 1995, negative publicity to Alaska’s wolf snaring program prompted Governor Tony Knowles to suspend the wolf control policy. In addition he called for a review of all of Alaska’s predator control programs by the National Academy of Sciences. The resulting report found that the programs were based on insufficient information.
At the same time, Governor Knowles stated that any predator control program under his administration would have to meet three criteria:
- 1. be scientifically sound
- 2. be publicly acceptable, and
- 3. be cost effective.
Despite the findings of the National Academy of Sciences as well as other scientific studies, wolf control proponents continue to push for intensive culling programs.
Alaska Government Hostile to Public Opinion
Although Alaskans have voted twice to ban aerial control of wolves, the Alaskan legislature and Governor continue to reinstate this cruel and barbaric policy. In his first year as Governor, Frank Murkowski signed a law legalizing aerial gunning of wolves.
Defenders Action Fund is working with partners on the ground in Alaska to once again put this issue before voters.