The state of Alaska surrendered to impassioned demands of wildlife lovers around the world Tuesday and canceled--at least for 1993--the planned aerial shooting of 300 to 400 free-ranging wolves.
Two major animal-rights groups applauded the action and said they would lift their call for an international tourist boycott of the state.
The sudden, if maybe only temporary, turnabout announced in Juneau by Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel could be attributed to the grass-roots fury of thousands of Americans, as well as citizens from other countries, who reacted to the wolf-kill plan with an angry tide of letters, demonstrations and boycott threats.
Hickel said he would proceed with a planned "wolf summit" next month in Fairbanks to consider the long-term conflicts between predators and hunters. Alaska is the only state where wolves roam without designation as a threatened or endangered species.
The controversy flared last month when the Alaska Board of Game announced it would soon begin shooting wolves in three large areas of Alaskan wilderness. By reducing predators in these areas by up to 80%, state officials hoped to increase the number of caribou and moose available for Alaska hunters.
Local hunters said they needed caribou and moose meat to feed their families. They noted the targeted wolves were only a portion of the estimated 7,000 wild wolves in the entire state, and they appealed for national understanding.
But outside Alaska, the plan was widely condemned, especially by wildlife fanciers. Many Americans expressed a view that the last true wilderness in the United States should be left wild. And the state's plan to radio-collar wolves to aid in tracking large packs from aircraft struck many as a misuse of a scientific tool.
Would-be visitors began canceling their trips in protest, and organizations like Cleveland Amory's Fund for Animals and the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals placed national advertising to make the boycott formal.
The state's huge tourism industry began to feel the pinch almost immediately. Pro-development forces within Alaska also began worrying that if the state ignored national values on something with the emotional wallop of wild wolves, it might jeopardize the chance to win the nation's trust to expand mining and oil drilling in sensitive areas, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In his written statement Tuesday, Hickel conceded the point. "We cannot consider wildlife management policies independent of public and political perceptions. The national view of our stewardship in Alaska will continue to impact our ability to develop all of our resources," he said.
Some confusion about the terms of the cancellation emerged as a result of wording in the statement issued by the state Tuesday. Only "aerial" wolf killing was specifically canceled for 1993. Some Alaska environmentalists worried that the state might intend to quietly hunt or trap the targeted wolves on the ground.
Not so, said a senior aide to Hickel and deputy state wildlife conservation director Wayne Regelin. Both insisted that the state would not kill any wolves in 1993--although private hunters and trappers would be permitted to take about 1,000 wolves as they do each year for sport and pelts.
Leaders of the Fund for Animals and the Friends of Animals said they were satisfied with these assurances and would call off their boycotts.
Meanwhile, Alaska environmentalists said they wanted to meet with state officials before deciding whether to participate in Hickel's "wolf summit" in January.
Some critics said Hickel did not intend to listen to environmentalists or animal-rights activists but to use the summit to try to "educate" Americans on the unique need to control predators in the vast wilds of Alaska.