My Turn: Selectively applying science to politics

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Recent appointments to the Board of Game have caused concern by some members of the public. Remember that five of the seven previous members were temporary appointments due to legislators' (elected by the same majority that elected Gov. Murkowski) refusal to confirm the Knowles appointments. One other term expires March 1.

The previous board picked when to apply science upon their politics. It was stated by two previous board members that biology was only a part of their job. To a certain extent I agree, but it was obvious that biology played no part in the decision to close Douglas Island to the taking of wolves but political correctness and politics did. This began with a board member writing a letter to the editor supporting closure weeks before any testimony by the public or Fish & Game and before listening to any recommendation by the local advisory board. Fair? Based on science?

It was stated there was strong support at the local board meeting. There also was strong local support for leaving it open. The difference in testimony was on one side people with a history in the woods on Douglas and symbolized on the other by testimony of a recent transplant from Minnesota who spent time last summer talking to a native in Klukwan about wolves and another who claimed the decrease in deer on North Douglas was not from wolves but due to hunters from Hoonah and Angoon who come to Douglas to hunt. Huh? Then there was the long-standing fable about the "Big Good" wolves only taking the sick and injured. Admittedly they go first but as they will eat between 25 and 32 deer each per year that means there must be a huge portion of the deer population that are sick and injured. As for those that claim winters, disease and other predators must be taken into account I couldn't agree more. We have had no bad winters, hunting pressure has decreased, no disease, the wolves moved in and deer seem to be decreasing. Figure it out.

The written justifications given for closure were nothing but assumptions passed off as fact. Not one was backed by any science, facts or by Fish & Game. These included: "a single trapper eliminated the only pack of seven wolves on Douglas Island." Not one fact backs this up. Not one study has been done. "Establishment of the pack was extraordinary as it established itself near Juneau." Extraordinary? It must be obvious that they came from other wolf packs in the Juneau area - or did they just fly in from elsewhere in the state? In addition proponents failed to mention the wolf pack established itself while there was open hunting and trapping on Douglas. Think about it.

As none of these justifications held water, the board resorted to a "sustained use" argument with a formula of seven wolves on Douglas or a marked decrease in the deer population before they would consider reopening Douglas Island. Fish & Game said they did not have the manpower or funds to monitor the wolves and several biologists testified that Douglas could not support a wolf population. How are we to come to agreement that there are more than seven wolves on the Island? If I see eight do you believe me? If proponents of closure see none does that mean that there are none? The reality of the situation is that if no wolves had been trapped the next pupping season there would have been more than seven wolves. There might have been migration to a new area which would have meant more closures. The former board did exactly that outside of Denali Park, twice.

It is this kind of decision by the game board that caused the Legislature to refuse to confirm previous members. As far as the fairness of the board being over weighted with Outdoor Council members, I can see the point but I have to ask who represented the Outdoor Council and its viewpoints on the previous game board. Fairness? You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Tim Whiting is a lifelong Juneauite who spent approximately 14 years on the local Fish & Game Advisory board in the 1970s and 1980s.

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