My Turn: It's not about the wolf

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2011

It’s hard to miss the discomfort in what Judge Levy is quoted as having said at Jeffrey Peacock’s sentencing hearing (Juneau Empire, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011). On the one hand, the court felt constrained to impose a sentence as if it was a “typical fish or game violation”, but on the other hand, the court acknowledged, a lot of people are upset and angry over the killing of the black wolf known as Romeo. Why the disconnect? Why are so many of us left feeling intensely dissatisfied with the way our representatives in the judicial system have handled the cases of Park Myers and Jeffrey Peacock? This is Alaska, after all; why should the killing of one wolf have so many of us so riled up?

It’s because these cases aren’t about hunting, and they really aren’t about the wolf. They are about the wanton waste of a valuable public resource that belonged to all Alaskans. The District Attorney missed this. In his presentation at the sentencing of Park Myers, Doug Gardiner, then the D.A., said that Myers’ actions were wrong because they deprived hunters of a “fair chase.” That characterization reflects a troubling disregard for the hundreds of thousands of Alaskans who don’t have a hunting license. For us, proximity to resources like the black wolf defines our life in Alaska. It’s why we move here from other places. It’s why we have a vibrant tourist business. It’s why we lure friends and family from distant lands to visit us and spend money here. A Forest Service source estimates that over the past six years, thousands of visitors — and perhaps tens of thousands — have paused to look for or listen to the black wolf at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. For many of them, encountering the black wolf was the experience of a lifetime. For Juneau families like mine, the black wolf was a bridge of experience between the natural world and the complexities of modern life. It is impossible to put a value on the wolf’s howl in our children’s education.

Judge Levy is right; these cases have caused a lot of concern. But it’s not because a wolf was hunted out of season or with the wrong caliber weapon; it’s because something that belonged to each one of us was taken wrongfully. Our fish and game laws were written to protect natural resources like the wolf, for every Alaskan, whether they hunt or not. Our representatives in the legal system should have gotten out from behind their spotting scopes and seen these cases — and the perpetrators — for what they are. Myers and Peacock had no interest in the fish and game laws. They acted with malice, cruelty and cowardice; they intended to and did deprive every Alaskan and our visitors of a valuable public resource. They stalked the wolf on a public road, and killed him knowing that he was an important resource for our community. They mocked our outrage. This never was a “typical fish or game case.” The court would have been justified in imposing sentences that reflected the true nature of the offenses and the harm done to the community. It is the community of citizens, after all, and not just the hunters, that the fish and game laws are supposed to serve.

• Milks is a Juneau resident.

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