Changing Alaska Won't Stand for Cruel Treatment of Wolves New Program to Sterilize Key Wolves in a Remote Area Contrasts with Harsh Wolf Control of the Past

Article excerpt

It used to be that when Alaskans talked of "wolf control," they meant targeted killing - at times by skimming over the landscape in an airplane and simply shooting the animals with rifles.

Today, many Alaskans won't stand for such practices, which they see as cruel and unfair - and they have made their feelings known. After three years of meetings and detailed negotiations, public opinion has led state officials to adopt a new, nonfatal method of wolf management: birth control.

During this and the next two winters, biologists will go to the remote Fortymile River region, capture members of the wolf packs there, and either sterilize them or transplant them to other parts of the state. The plan is an important waymark in a gradual cultural shift that has taken place on America's frontier during the past few decades. No more a place solely for bearded roughnecks and hearty pioneers, Alaska has become more urbanized, and its citizens of the 1990s have different expectations. "It's an issue of values, and they've probably changed over the last few decades as we became more urban," said Wayne Regelin, director of wildlife management for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, when the plan was unveiled in November. "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." Indeed, despite Alaska's image, killing wild animals can be a sensitive subject here. Although public support for hunting remains high - polls indicate that 75 to 85 percent of residents favor allowing people to hunt wildlife for food - participation is far lower. In fact, hunting participation is lower in Alaska than it is in states such as Wyoming, Montana, and Georgia, says Tony Monzingo, head of the hunter-education program at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Not counting some bush residents who gather food from the land for traditional "subsistence" purposes, only 14.5 percent of Alaskans more than 16 years old hold hunting licenses. While sales of sport-fishing licenses have risen steadily over the past decade, the number of resident hunting and trapping licenses has been constant or has declined, despite dramatic population growth. "Alaska is actually not at the top of the food chain as far as hunting goes," Mr. …