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Wolves
Wolf History, Conservation, Ecology and Behavior
[www.wolfology.com]


DECEMBER 2004
12.27.04 ONTONAGON, MI (Ironwood Daily Globe) -- There are 80 wolves in Gogebic County in 11 packs, according to the latest estimates of the Department of Natural Resources. Brian Roell, a wolf coordinator with the MDNR, updated area volunteer wolf trackers on Upper Peninsula estimates recently. Roell said Ontonagon County has 21 wolves and four packs and Houghton County has 23 wolves and five packs. "These figures are minimum wolf numbers counted during the winter surveys conducted last year," said Nancy Warren, a volunteer wolf tracker. Results of 2004-2005 surveys won't be available until May. "Wolves do not adhere to county or state lines and in the U.P., the territory of a wolf pack can encompass over 100 square miles. Though their territory may lie primarily in Gogebic County, they could travel back and forth into Wisconsin," Warren noted. Wisconsin and Michigan DNR officials coordinate efforts to insure the animals are not double counted. Territories for wolves in Houghton, Gogebic, Ontonagon and Iron County (Mich.) often overlap. During winter tracking surveys, for population estimates the Michigan DNR places wolves in what is believed to be the center of their activity.
12.22.04 GAYLORD, MI (Traverse City Record-Eagle) -- Biologists will roam the woods of northern Michigan next month to look for gray wolves, discovered this year south of the Mackinac Bridge for the first time in almost a century. Wolves number at least 360 in the Upper Peninsula, where the state Department of Natural Resources has monitored over the last 20 years their recovery from a state-paid bounty that led to their near extinction in Michigan. The successful recovery of the region's wolf population caused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this summer to propose the removal of wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species. "We knew that wolves were eventually going to reach the Lower Peninsula, it was just a matter of when," said Brian Roell, the DNR's wolf coordinator. Residents of northern lower Michigan called in dozens of wolf sightings to the DNR over the last couple of years, officials said, but evidence of the animals was never found. Proof came in October. A Presque Isle County man shot and killed a 70-pound female wolf caught in a steel trap. Jeff Karsten of Rogers City told DNR officers he believed the animal to be a large coyote and saw a radio collar it wore after he killed it. Karsten was not prosecuted for killing the federally-protected wolf, but the incident caused the DNR to begin a monitoring program. Then, this month, DNR biologists confirmed the presence of at least two more wolves through tracks found near Millersburg in Presque Isle County. Biologist Glen Matthews, of the DNR's Gaylord office, said the survey strategy this winter will focus on Presque Isle and other northeastern counties near the Straits of Mackinac, where the wolves likely crossed the ice bridge that formed during the last two winters. He said northeastern lower Michigan is ideal for the predator because there are few roads and few humans.
12.22.04 WASHINGTON, DC (Defenders of Wildlife press release) -- Defenders of Wildlife today announced that compensation payments to ranchers for livestock losses related to wolves exceeded $138,000 in 2004, a new record for Defenders' compensation program. In the 17 years since the program began, The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Fund, named in honor of its largest contributor, has reimbursed more than 300 ranchers and livestock owners in the Northern Rockies more than $440,000 in livestock compensation payments."Partnering with local stakeholders on wolf recovery is absolutely essential to the future of the species and we're pleased to be able to provide this vital assistance to livestock owners in the region," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The program is highly effective in building tolerance for wolves while helping most ranchers and farmers with the cost of livestock losses to wolf depredation." Defenders also announced the development of a Livestock Advisory Council, composed initially of sheep and cattle ranchers from Montana, Idaho and Arizona, who are evaluating and offering improvements for these programs.The group was composed of wolf biologists, ranchers, wildlife conservationists, federal and state officials, natural resource economists, environmental ethicists and public policy experts from across the country. Surveys were also sent to compensation recipients over the last three years to gather more feedback from the people whom this program serves. "According to the survey, a significant majority of recipients are 'satisfied' or 'highly satisfied' with the amount of compensation they received, and nearly all respondents thought Defenders' wolf compensation program should continue, even after wolves are transferred from federal to state management," said Suzanne Stone, Defenders' Rocky Mountain Field Representative. "By comparing agency records with the number of those seeking compensation, we found that almost all livestock owners with confirmed or probable wolf livestock losses do seek and receive compensation from Defenders' program." In 1987, Defenders of Wildlife initiated the first privately funded, livestock compensation program of its kind to reimburse livestock owners for wolf caused losses while wolves were protected as an endangered species. The idea originated from William Mott, the former National Park Service director, who in 1985 encouraged Defenders to consider private compensation for livestock losses as a way to help resolve conflicts over wolf restoration.
12.22.04 WISCONSIN (The Ashland Daily Press) -- As the state Department of Natural Resources prepares to consider new controls on the Timber Wolf population, a survey released by the Timber Wolf Alliance indicates many people are fearful of the creatures. More than a quarter of the people surveyed stated they would either participate less frequently or stop participating in some outdoor activities, such as walking dogs and running, if they knew wolves lived in their area. DNR biologist and wolf expert Adrian P. Wydeven said those percentages were higher than he would have expected. He said he knew of no wolf attacks on people in Wisconsin. Pam Troxell, coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, said the study's results indicated a need for educating people about wolves' behaviors. "I don't want to pretend wolves couldn't or wouldn't attack a person, but it's highly unlikely," she said. She said the results showed most people neither advocated for total protection of wolves nor for drastic steps to reduce their populations. Only 6 percent of the survey's respondents supported poisoning wolves to control them, and 84 percent opposed the idea. About 10 percent were neutral. About 38 percent supported a public hunting on wolves, and about 40 percent opposed the idea. About 22 percent were neutral. About 27 percent supported sterilizing wolves, and about 46 percent opposed it. Twenty-seven percent were neutral. Questionnaires were sent to randomly chosen households throughout the state, and 650 of them responded, he said. The DNR updates its wolf management plan every five years. The DNR's current plan is to maintain the population at 350 wolves. This number probably won't change much in any update to the management plan, Wydeven said. The DNR's wolf science committee would make management recommendations before sending them to the Board of Natural Resources for possible approval. The big debate will largely focus on how to control the population if it continues to increase, he said. Some of the most vigilant opponents of wolves are bear hunters, whose hunting dogs have been killed by wolves. Some farmers have also advocated for reducing the population. The amount of livestock killed by wolves continues to increase, according to DNR statistics. Depredations occurred on 14 different farms last year, and 24 different farms this year, Wydeven said. The survey found about 66 percent of the respondents supported having the DNR shoot problem wolves, and about 20 percent opposed the idea. About 14 percent were neutral. A majority of respondents supported both allowing farmers to shoot problem wolves and allowing the DNR to relocate problem wolves. It also showed about 75 percent of the respondents supported having farmers learn "best management practices for protecting their livestock from wolves."
12.21.04 WYOMING (Billings Gazette) -- Yellowstone National Park may have about all the wolves it can handle. For the first time since wolves were reintroduced to the park 10 years ago, the population has likely reached a plateau. Gone are the days when the wolf population jumped 40 or 50 percent a year. Even more recent growth rates - around 10 percent a year - may be tapering off.  Preliminary estimates show there are now about 169 wolves in 15 packs, down from 174 the year before, according to Doug Smith, Yellowstone's lead wolf biologist. On Yellowstone's Northern Range, the wolf population dropped by 10 to 15 wolves in the last year, primarily because of competition. It's no surprise that the population is leveling off, Smith said. There's only so much room and so much food for wolves inside the park. Competition has become especially acute in the Northern Range, where seven packs vie for survival. Even though 30 pups survived this year, the population in that area still fell 15 percent because of fierce competition. Most of the wolves that died were killed in fights with other wolves. "In the Northern Range, every pack has a neighbor infringing on its territory," Smith said. Between 1995 and 1998, the population grew by 40 to 50 percent annually. Between 2000 and 2003, the growth rate was closer to 10 percent a year. The population dipped slightly in 1999 during a parvo outbreak. But this year there's no sign that disease has played a role in the population estimates, even though mange has had an impact on wolves outside the park's borders. The number of wolves in Yellowstone has flattened primarily because of increased competition and fewer places for new packs to get established, he said. Smith predicts that Yellowstone's wolf population is stabilizing and will eventually fall to a lower, long-term level. "But we don't know what that will be yet," Smith said. Outside the park in the larger Yellowstone ecosystem, the wolf population has leveled off, too. The 2004 estimate is about 300 wolves, about the same number figured in 2003, according to Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now that most of the best wolf habitat is being used, the population will be kept in check as wolves disperse, get into trouble with livestock and are killed by government agents or others, Bangs said. "The fact is that when you get the good stuff filled up with wolves, it's pretty hard to keep them alive," Bangs said. Researchers in Yellowstone also found a new pattern in what wolves chose to eat this fall. Wolves killed more bull elk and fewer calves than normal during the study, which lasted from Nov. 15 to Dec. 14, Smith said. In a typical fall, bull elk make up 5 to 10 percent of the wolves' diet. This year, it was about 30 percent. Elk calves made up about 20 percent wolf kills this fall, compared with 50 to 60 percent in normal years. It's unclear what has caused the switch this year but Smith said it may be connected to 2004's wet summer. Kill rates are also down slightly this year, he said, which may be connected to scant snowfall this year, which acts in the elks' advantage because they have an easier time escaping predators and finding food.
12.17.04 HELENA, MT (Billings Gazette) -- Montana's state wildlife agency is seeking ideas on how to compensate ranchers for wolf-related livestock losses, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said Thursday. A series of winter workshops on the issue is planned with the goal of developing a program that operates independently from the agency's daily operations and funding. Ranchers who lose livestock to verified wolf attacks are currently compensated by the nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife. "The key will be to carefully consider and examine the consequences of each option," said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. Hagener said creation of such a compensation program is required by the state's federally approved wolf-management plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires approved plans from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming before it will consider removing the wolves' federal protection and turning over management of the animals to the states.
12.17.04 JUNEAU, ALASKA (Juneau Empire) -- The Friends of Animals delivered 2,800 postcards to Gov. Frank Murkowski's office from U.S. residents boycotting Alaska tourism because they are outraged by his reintroduction of aerial wolf hunting. The international animal rights group decided to hand-deliver the cards. The governor's staff claimed not to have received thousands of postcards the group mailed via the United Parcel Service in 2003, said Scott Moran, the group's Alaska region project coordinator. Some people who signed the postcards wrote personal messages to the governor asking him to change the policy. They all pledged to avoid traveling to Alaska until wolf hunting is stopped. Alaskans who sent postcards said they wouldn't support their friends and family traveling to the state. The Connecticut-based non-profit's postcard delivery coincides with the aerial wolf hunting season. Hunters who applied to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game aerial hunt in the fall are now able to go out and shoot their prey. The Murkowski administration reintroduced aerial wolf hunting to boost moose populations. "Basically, Alaskans voted twice, in 1996 and 2000, that they didn't want aerial hunting," Moran said. "It's wrong to be out killing wolves, period."
12.16.04 TUCSON, AZ (Tucson Citizen) -- It's been five years since the Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and agencies involved in the program want public comments on the perceived success or failure of the program. The endangered animals appear to be making a comeback in the forests of east-central Arizona and western New Mexico, said Bill Van Pelt, a biologist with the Arizona Game & Fish Department. So far, 50 to 60 wolves live in the wild. Wildlife specialists estimate that dozens of pups have been born in the wild, but typically up to 50 percent die of natural causes before reaching maturity, said Dan Groebner, field leader of the wolf project for Game & Fish. The reintroduction began with a core group of seven or eight animals captured in Mexico and transported to the reintroduction area, said Bruce Sitko, a spokesman for Game & Fish. Officials have taken steps to ensure the greatest possible gene-pool diversity to prevent inbreeding. The Mexican gray wolf is thought to have been hunted, trapped and poisoned to extinction in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Groebner said. It was an organized effort to rid the country of the wolf, in part to protect ranching interests. Since then, elk populations rebounded and so have wolves' other favorite prey, the deer, Sitko said. Game & Fish tries to maintain an elk population of about 35,000 on state and federal lands outside tribal lands in Arizona. Studies of wolf scat have demonstrated that about 75 percent of the predators' diet is elk, Sitko said. The next most common food is deer. People who want to comment can review studies and reports on the introduction program online at azgfd.gov/comments. Four public meetings are scheduled to discuss the program. They will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 26 in Truth or Consequences, N.M.; Jan. 27 in Glenwood, N.M.; Jan. 28 in Alpine; and Jan. 29 in Phoenix.
12.15.04 CORVALLIS, OR (Science Daily) - Research about wolves that began in Yellowstone National Park has been replicated in an adjacent area, and a growing body of evidence leads scientists to conclude that this historic predator may have an ecological impact far more important than realized in the American West. The near extinction of the gray wolf across most of the West in the past century now appears to have removed the natural element of "fear" from these ecosystems. It has triggered a cascade of ecological effects on everything from elk populations to beaver, birds, fish, and even stream systems - and helped lead directly to the collapsing health of aspen and some other tree species and vegetation. Two recent studies by forestry scientists from Oregon State University, published in the journals BioScience and Forest Ecology and Management, outline a role for the gray wolf that is complex and rarely understood, but helps explain many major problems facing western streams, forests and wildlife. "It would appear that the loss of a keystone predator, the gray wolf, across vast areas of the American West may have set the stage for previously unrecognized and unappreciated ecological changes in riparian and upland plant communities, and the functions they provide," the scientists concluded. The ecological and historical significance of wolves is only partly due to the actual impact they have by preying on other animals, both large and small, the OSU researchers have found. Just as important is the fear that many larger animals have of wolves, and the resulting behavioral changes in elk and some other grazing animals. "Prey species will alter their use of space and their foraging patterns according to the features of the terrain and how that affects the risk of predation," noted [the] study. "They forage or browse less intensively at high-risk sites." Some of those sites, the researchers say, are streamsides rich in aspen, cottonwood, willow and other edible vegetation. When healthy and normal, such areas naturally grow large trees and other streamside vegetation that provides the basis for supporting beaver, other wildlife, fish populations, native bird communities, and stable channel banks. The OSU scientists, in previous work, documented that the loss of aspen and cottonwood trees in Yellowstone National Park dated almost exactly to the extermination of the last wolf packs in the park in the mid-1920s. The elk moved in, ate young trees before they could become established, and the entire riparian ecosystem began a slow demise that was only reversed recently - when wolves were re-introduced to the park. In their newest work, the researchers have found exactly the same forces at work along the Gallatin River in southwestern Montana. Coincidental with the return of wolves to that area, there has been a dramatic recovery of willow populations along streams, and other possible factors such as changing climate conditions have been ruled out as a possible cause. A modest recovery of willows may not seem that significant. But the OSU researchers say it has set the stage for ecological "spin-offs," including an increase in plant biomass, improved streambank stability, better floodplain functioning, reduced soil erosion, and better food web support for everything from beaver to river otter, fish, birds, amphibians, and insects. One study suggested that the loss of wolves has allowed increases in deer populations across much of North America, which led to a browsing pressure on plants that was unprecedented. In Grand Teton National Park, the local extinction of grizzly bears and wolves caused an increase in herbivory on willow by moose, and ultimately decreased the diversity of neotropical migrant birds. More information on this research can be found on the Web at http://www.cof.orst.edu/wolves.
12.13.04 DENVER, CO (UPI) -- Scientists say wolves could be re-introduced to southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico in three to five years. The imperiled Mexican gray wolf may be selected for the project in the Four Corners region, the Denver Post reported Monday. Details of the plan have not been finalized. Wolf re-introduction programs have been criticized in the past by ranchers in the West. There would be a public review process before the wolves were actually released to the wild. Some members of the recovery team are leaning toward release of the endangered Mexican gray wolf rather than the northern gray wolf that was successfully introduced in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The Four Corners area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet was once a haven for northern and southern wolf populations before they were largely exterminated in 1930s. Michael Robinson, a recovery team member from Center for Biological Diversity, said there is room in southern Colorado for wolves and a huge number of wild elk to provide food.
12.11.04 DEVON, ENGLAND (KRON4) -- You could call him Britain's "wolf man."Writer Shaun Ellis has begun a unique project, living around the clock with three wolf cubs and acting as the leader of the pack. He's trying to teach them how to survive in the wild by mimicking the behavior of an adult wolf. The North American timber wolves -- now eight months old -- were abandoned in captivity by their mother. Ellis plans to live with them for seven months, sleeping outside in freezing temperatures and relying on the body heat of the animals to keep him warm.
12.11.04 ARIZONA (Arizona Daily Star) -- A pack of four endangered wolves that has been lurking around homes in the White Mountains will be rounded up and relocated, officials announced Friday. Residents along the Blue River have complained for months about the Aspen Pack, which was reintroduced near the Arizona-New Mexico border on July 27 as part of the government's ongoing recovery effort. There haven't been any documented cases of the pack preying on livestock. But two dogs have been injured, and ranchers living along the Blue say the wolves have threatened their security and livelihoods. Biologists were stationed along the river virtually 24/7 so they could monitor and haze the wolves, but the animals kept coming back, said Bruce Sitko, an Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman. "We'd prefer they were in a more remote location. Sooner or later, we're concerned something will happen," he said. "It's also been a real drain on the regular responsibilities of the field team." The two adults and two pups will be captured using leg snares or traps with padded jaws, then sent to Ted Turner's Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico. It's unclear where or when the wolves will be released again, but scientists will look for a remote area not occupied by other wolves, Sitko said. Michael Robinson, carnivore conservation coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he didn't want to second-guess officials' decision. "This is a case where it seems there's a genuine conflict," he said. Robinson said the conflict could have been avoided if biologists were allowed to release wolves in New Mexico's unpopulated Gila Wilderness. To get the wolf program off the ground in the 1990s, state and federal officials agreed not to release animals directly into New Mexico and to round up any wolf that strayed from a recovery area that now spans 9,290 square miles. Recaptures can be problematic, Robinson said, with one wolf losing a leg in the winter of 1999 after it was stuck in a trap for too long. "There's a history of them accidentally killing and injuring wolves they round up," he said.
12.9.04 BOISE, ID (Idaho News) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said four gray wolves have been found shot dead in Idaho since October. Now the hunt is on for the people who illegally pulled the trigger. A $5,000 reward per wolf is offered for information leading to convictions but an Idaho hunting group - which opposed the initial reintroducing of wolves - said finding the poachers is unlikely. The evidence is undeniable: four gray wolves shot to death in Idaho's backcountry. "One of those wolves killed was up here from the Timberline wolf pack," said Suzanne Stone of Defender's of Wildlife. Her group is donating part of the $5,000 per wolf reward money. "Killing them illegally - it's just absolutely senseless." Idaho Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife agree...to an extent. "We certainly don't condone this kind of behavior," said Nate Helm, "it's breaking the law, we don't support that in the slightest...but the however part still plays a part." The "however" is this: Helm said with more than 50 documented wolf packs in Idaho the state has seen an increase in the wolf population this year. He said he doesn't see these four deaths throwing a wrench in wolf reintroduction here. "I don't see this contributing to a decline in the population and it certainly doesn't hamper our ability to delist wolves," said Helm. The wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Illegally killing one is punishable with up to a $100,000 fine and jail time. But Helm thinks the chances of catching the culprits are... "about a zero."
12.8.04 BINGHAMTON, NY (KRON4) -- An upstate zoo is having a tough time keeping its red wolves from answering the call of the wild. On Monday night, workers at the Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton managed to recapture a seven-month-old wolf that had escaped its exhibit area four days earlier.  But a second wolf -- which was being used to lure the first one back to the exhibit -- now is on the loose. Police and zoo officials say they believe the latest escapee is wandering around somewhere on the zoo property. Several workers at the zoo are trying to locate the other wolf. The zoo director says a problem with an enclosure apparently allowed the first wolf to make its escape. A third wolf in the exhibit has so far stayed put. The red wolves are an endangered species.
12.8.04 WISCONSIN (The Capital Times) -- Wolf attacks on livestock have become an increasing problem in northern Wisconsin as the wolf population grows, but federal wildlife officials offered hope Tuesday for a solution. David Ruid, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the state Natural Resources Board that removing predator wolves from an area has helped. "This year we implemented our control program on 19 farms and solved this on 17 of those," Ruid said. He also verified that wolves are clearly to blame for most cattle kills. "Our data suggests that in verified cattle depredations, wolves are responsible for 70 to 80 percent," with coyotes and bears causing a much smaller problem, Ruid said. "Based on the last three years, the probability is most likely that 77 percent were killed by a wolf." Ruid and David A. Nelson, Wisconsin and Minnesota director for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, presented statistics showing that 127 complaints of wolf predations in Wisconsin have been received so far in 2004, and 54 were verified. Livestock were confirmed killed or wounded on 20 farms. Twenty-seven wolves were captured, and 24 were killed. Members of the Natural Resources Board were impressed with the statistics, but are now faced with the huge problem of reimbursing livestock owners for animals that are killed."There isn't any more money," board member Stephen Willett said."We have to figure out how to do it," said board member Herb Behnke. He pointed out that in the case of one of the farms where calves had been killed, the animals were prime breeding stock. The fact that the wolf is being removed from endangered species lists also limits funding sources, board member Jonathan Ela said. "Claims have increased due to wolf damage, and there is significant public controversy about the wolf damage payment program. Though the end of state fiscal year 2003-04, the Bureau of Endangered Resources has settled 199 damage claims totaling $381,655," a memo to the board from DNR Secretary Scott Hassett stated. "A vast majority of these claims, 164, have been paid for damage done by gray wolves." The proposed rule continues the practice of paying for missing calves on ranches with a history of wolf depredation. It differs from an existing program in that there are proposed caps for maximum payments per livestock animal type, with amounts yet to be set. There also would be a maximum reimbursement of $15,000 per claimant per year and a proposed claim deductible of $250. Wolf damage payments from 1999 to 2004 have averaged $43,800 per year. The Wisconsin wolf population has increased from 25 animals in 1980 to 373 in 2004, according to the DNR. "The paramount issue in Wisconsin is compensation for missing livestock," Ruid said.
12.6.04 ASHLAND, WI (Ironwood Daily Globe) -- A survey conducted by a group at Northland College in Ashland shows people in Michigan are very accepting of the presence of wolves, but still view wolves as a threat to humans. Nearly 90 percent of respondents felt wolves should be allowed to live in all parts of Michigan, but 36 percent said they would be very concerned about the safety of their children if they knew wolves lived near their homes. Another 31 percent said they would be somewhat concerned for their children's safety. Researchers for "The State of the Wolf Project" sent 2,500 surveys to Upper Peninsula residents and 2,500 to residents in lower Michigan. Northland College Sociology Professor Kevin Schanning headed the study. "People really do have a deep-seated irrational fear of wolves. This persists despite no evidence of wolves attacking humans in Michigan. Statistically, you are in more danger from domestic dogs and bees," said Schanning. Other notable findings show nearly 30 percent of respondents said there are too many wolves in Michigan, while just over 27 percent said there are not enough wolves. Forty-three percent said the right amount of wolves currently live in Michigan. Fifty-four percent said they didn't think wolves threatened deer hunting opportunities, while 29.5 percent felt wolves do threaten hunting.
12.4.04 TRAVERSE CITY, MI (WOODTV.com) -- At least two more endangered gray wolves are believed to exist in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. State officials say they confirmed a pair of wolf tracks found Wednesday in Presque Isle County. The finding comes less than two months after a Rogers City man shot and killed a radio-collared wolf he caught in a steel trap. The wolf was the first confirmed sighting of the predator in Michigan's lower peninsula in nearly a century. The Upper Peninsula is believed to be home to about 350 gray wolves. Biologists believe the animals migrated south on the ice bridge at the Straits of Mackinac.
12.1.04 ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (Anchorage Daily News) -- Private airplane pilots have gunned down the first four wolves from the air in what could be the biggest government-sponsored killing of the animals since Alaska statehood. State game managers believe the effort, targeting more than 500 of the predators for death, should make moose and caribou more plentiful in coming years. The goal is to give hunters a better chance to fill their freezers. Opponents say the program is unnecessary. They believe that the predator-prey balance in most of the state is within normal levels and that moose and caribou herds don't need human intervention. "Alaskans need to get on the horn to the governor and put an end to this genocide," said Karen Deatherage, Anchorage spokeswoman for the national wildlife conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. Calls for another tourism boycott have already begun. Gov. Frank Murkowski paved the way for lethal predator control to resume shortly after he was elected in 2002 by stocking the Alaska Board of Game with advocates of wolf control and by signing legislation that allows private pilots to do the killing. Working under state and federal permits, the pilot-gunner teams are not paid. Their compensation is the pelts of wolves they shoot, which can range in value from worthless to several hundred dollars, depending on quality. After a decade in which the state virtually stopped performing lethal predator control, the wolf-kill effort began last winter. At the request of hunters, the Game Board has expanded efforts to four more game management units. Pilot-gunner teams working around McGrath shot two wolves from the air last week. This year's plan appears to be the biggest in decades, said Vic Van Ballenberghe, a wildlife biologist in Alaska since the early 1970s. "Barring any unusual circumstances, there's every reason to believe it will result in the largest number of wolves taken (in predator control programs) since the 1950s," he said. Several groups tried to halt the state's new effort by promoting a boycott of Alaska tourism last winter, and efforts have started again. Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based organization, placed an advertisement in the New York Times Sunday magazine last week asking people to stay home in 2005. But the boycott didn't appear to have much effect in the past year, said Dave Worrell of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. The total number of visitors rose 9 percent from 2003, he said, with gains in cruise ship traffic, airline passengers and highway visitors. "The bottom line is that we didn't see an impact," Worrell said. "I just don't think it was as widely publicized as they would have liked it to be."