Trappers from Prince of Wales Island lashed out at state officials about the upcoming wolf season during a two-hour teleconference Wednesday night. The trappers want more harvest opportunity. They argued that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been mismanaging the wolf population for years, and are putting the interests of small environmental groups above local voices.
Prince of Wales Island trappers gave a tongue-lashing to Fish and Game over the preliminary announcement of a 31-day trapping season. More information about what the season looks like this year is expected by the end of the week.
This season, the state department is proposing a 31-day trapping period. They would expect somewhere between 60 and 100 wolves to be trapped — that equals an average of two or three wolves every day.
Until 2019, state officials set a quota for how many wolves could be harvested in a season, based on population estimates from the year before. After that, the state moved to the current model, which sets open trapping periods.
Tom Schumacher is Fish and Game’s regional supervisor for the game unit that includes Prince of Wales Island — game management unit II.
“So if we assume that this year will be an average year that would result in (the) harvest of about 80 wolves,” he explained. “However, it could be as few as 65 or could be as many as nearly 100. And we’re comfortable with something within that range. We think that’ll be sustainable and provides a lot of opportunity.”
The department wants to keep the island’s wolf population somewhere between 150 and 200 animals. Based on data from last fall, Fish and Game thinks there’s more than 230 on the island. That’s lower than the 2020 estimate of 386, and the 2019 estimate of 316.
Trapper Daniel Peters was tuned into the meeting. He said 31 days is just too short to keep the population under control.
“This season being 31 days would be a travesty to say the least,” he said. “We’re at a point right now that we could actually fix this, if we just keep on — but we need a little bit more time. We have to have at least two months, I think, to really get after it.”
Peters pointed to the department’s population estimate for the island. He said that should translate to a longer season.
“You guys spelled it out that we’d have a full season if we have over 200 wolves,” Peters said. “We do and we don’t have a full season.”
Peters spends most of his time trapping around Kupreanof, Mitkof and Etolin islands. Since he’s been trapping wolves, he said he’s seen deer and elk populations spring up, which he noted is a good thing for subsistence users.
“And I really think that’s what you need to focus on is the ungulate population in Southeast in general,” he said.
Other trappers spoke about a declining deer population. Howard Walcott, said he sees more wolves than deer while out setting his traps. He said that’s a bad sign.
“Everybody’s saying it I’m just gonna say it (in) a nice way … we have too many wolves,” he said. “It’s plain and simple.”
Kurt Whitehead also said he thinks the population is out of control.
“The deer, I mean, it’s, it’s shocking the number of wolves that we’ve seen and heard, and the lack of deer,” he said. “So (I’m) speaking for a whole bunch of local residents that our subsistence needs are not being met.”
Others, like Sam Sawyer, accused the department of caring more about environmental groups advocating for wolf protections than about listening to locals.
“Because people like you have let environmentalists get to their freaking head and stress them out so much,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer criticized Fish and Game for not extending last year’s trapping season after weeks of heavy snow forced many trappers to take their traps inside. He said the season should have been opened again to make up for lost time.
“We are the only God dang state that promotes predator populations instead of freaking controlling them,” he said.
State manager Schumacher said that decision wasn’t Fish and Game’s to make. Re-opening the season was up to the department’s commissioner – Doug Vincent-Lang.
In Sawyer’s eyes, problems with the deer population are tied to the wolves.
“The deer population is [expletive] here in Thorne Bay, Prince of Wales, everywhere,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer asked Schumacher if deer or wolves were more important.
“Both are important and we’re trying our best to manage so we can balance the two,” Schumacher responded.
The preliminary start date for the trapping is Nov. 15, ending Dec. 15. Final information is expected in a joint announcement from the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Game.
Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify one commenter’s position.