Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that it will not conduct a wolf kill on Unimak Island as part of an effort to grow a dwindling caribou herd.
An environmental assessment released this January suggested predator control – including aerial wolf hunts – as possibilities for protecting the caribou herd at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, but the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected these options.
Bruce Woods is a spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife. He says laws governing wilderness lands require that natural diversity be maintained with minimal intervention by man, and that the predator control options would have been a break from established policy.
Management of the Unimak caribou herd has been a point of tension between the federal government and the state for about a year. Over the past decade, the caribou population on Unimak Island has dropped from about 1,300 animals to just 300 and has been closed to subsistence harvesting. Last May, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposed a wolf kill in an effort to protect the herd, and the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to allow hunters onto refuge land. A federal judge denied that request.
When Fish and Wildlife released its environmental assessment this winter, there was some surprise by conservation groups that predator control was still on the table. Rebecca Noblin is the Alaska Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. She says not enough is known about the cause of the caribou decline.
Right now, Fish and Wildlife will continue its surveys of Unimak caribou and its research on the herd’s decline. Woods says they’re also considering a plan that would bring bulls from the Alaska Peninsula to Unimak Island in an effort to increase calf production.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was not able to offer immediate comment on this story.
Download Audio (MP3)