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My Turn: What's missing with Alaska Fish & Game's abundance-based game management?

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An article titled "Abundance-based fish, game management can benefit all" by Corey Rossi of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game provides an articulate explanation of ADF&G's current approach to conservation, and the emphasis of abundant big game harvests. But if conservation means looking at both sides of the equation (utilization vs. preservation), then some factors may be missing with respect to wildlife.

While abundance of wildlife is certainly one of the fundamental goals of conservation, so is diversity. The article never mentions diversity. Abundance at the sacrifice of diversity is the essence of modern agriculture, but not ecology. The article quotes ecologist Aldo Leopold, calling him "one of the founders of modern wildlife management." He was also an early advocate for protecting diversity stating, "to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."

In addition, Leopold was a strong proponent of wilderness "to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community." In fact, he was a founder of The Wilderness Society. Although Leopold saw parallels between agriculture and game management, he was more a preservationist than a utilitarian.

The utilitarian approach is better attributed to forester Gifford Pinchot, also mentioned in the article. Pinchot, another icon of conservation, fought the timber industry's wholesale destruction of forests, but strongly advocated the planned use and renewal of forest resources. He opposed preservation for the sake of wilderness or scenery. He would prefer an orderly tree farm that lacked diversity but had the maximum yield of a desirable forest product to a messy wilderness forest that had more diversity but less crop.

This replay of history may seem trivial, but the lessons one professes to learn from history reveals one's ideological gyroscope. It reveals not only orientation, but where one's fulcrum is with respect to balance. Applied to conservation, it reveals whether one is likely to weigh in favor of either the utilitarian or preservationist's side, or give more equal weighting, requiring that the fulcrum be close to the middle.

ADF&G's approach is clearly utilitarian. Rossi writes, "Abundance-based management ... requires man to work with the land to produce the maximum sustainable yield." But leaving out diversity and wilderness values to achieve this does not equate to "the maximum benefit of Alaska's people." Many Alaskans put more value on having wildlife diversity and wilderness than an intensively managed abundance of big game. Rossi says "abundance-based fish and game management benefits all user groups." But if that were true, a strong voice of consensus would speak for itself. Given Alaska's ongoing debates between consumptive and nonconsumptive users of wildlife, this obviously is not the case.

Another shortcoming of ADF&G's abundance-based intensive management concept is that it applies only to big game. Game birds and furbearers are, for the most part, not being managed for abundance, or even local existence. The Kachemak Bay Conservation Society (KBCS) has commented on several proposals for the Board of Game (BOG) spring meeting regarding local depletion or extirpation of game birds and furbearers on the Kenai Peninsula.

"The Division of Wildlife Conservation needs to have the wherewithal to micromanage these species. It needs information and authority comparable to the management of Alaska's fisheries," according to KBCS.

To assure both consumptive and nonconsumptive users an opportunity to locally harvest and/or view these species, KBCS has recommended that the BOG establish a stakeholder advisory committee to draft a conservation plan for Kenai Peninsula game birds and furbearers. The committee should review scientific and anecdotal information to validate if Kenai Peninsula game birds and furbearers have any localized areas of depletion. If so, it would recommend intensive management strategies to either restore or reintroduce those species.

One valid criticism of our recommendation is lack of funding. But there are options. Since most cruise ship travelers come to Alaska to see wildlife, it makes sense to apply a small percentage of the $50 head tax they pay to fund implementation of this conservation plan.

To summarize, KBCS thinks that ADF&G's concept would be more balanced and widely accepted if it recognized diversity and wilderness values and included game birds and furbearers.

• George Matz is a resident of Fritz Creek and a member of the board of directors for the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, a nonprofit involved in wildlife issues. Before moving to Homer over four years ago he was President of the Anchorage Audubon Society for several years. He served on the Board of Game from 2001-2002. He has been on the Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee for the past two years.




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