Churchill dumped, but wolves remain

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2000

As many Alaskans may attest, Bob Churchill was widely recognized as an imminently fair-minded and even-handed member of the Board of Game. But he agreed wolf control near McGrath (GMU 19) and in GMU 13 was the right thing to do. Big mistake. He's history. Gov. Knowles dumped him. Worse yet, the governor didn't even recognize Bob's invaluable contributions to public service, balanced management and wildlife conservation.

In the next breath, the governor sent a letter to the same Board of Game from which he just fired Bob, dictating they ``should proceed in the following direction and sequence.''

First, ``the time to establish significant and appropriate areas of complete protection for wolves is long overdue,'' including ``the current request for the Toklat pack.'' In response to a previous proposal that mirrored the governor's current request, the local National Park Service personnel and ADFG testified a Toklat buffer zone wasn't needed to protect the wolves - again, not needed. Whoops, another big mistake. The governor insisted ADFG its their previous position and in a well-timed letter from the undersecretary of Interior for fish, wildlife, and parks, so did the administration with their own personnel. The result, they both backed off.

Second, the governor stated, ``Alaska needs additional areas where bear (and wolf) populations are protected and where (their) viewing is the priority use.'' How many acres of parkland do we already have? Do we really need more? Also, does this mean traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and trapping will be discontinued?

Third, and strongly predicated upon the successful completion of the first two objectives, the governor will appoint ``a blue ribbon committee to review current legislation and recommend reforms.'' That's fine, but that's also the same thing he said in 1996 that produced a $100,000-plus study that resulted in no action, except the same fix we're in today - less moose and more wolves.

Fourth, in conjunction with a blue ribbon committee, the governor will appoint ``an adaptive management work group . . . to recommend the appropriate, if any, research-based management action for wolf control (in) GMU 19D.'' We don't need another work group. The research is in - in fact, you requested it four years ago - you just disagree with it today. Both the ADFG staff and the Game Board folks who manage the resource on the ground and not from the Capitol agreed that wolf control was needed immediately in GMUs 13 and 19 to rebuild healthy moose populations. The recommendations came from the bottom-up, were founded on years of replicated science, and were the best judgments of many -- not top-down political whimsies of the day.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the above quote is the phrase ``if any.'' It's the same phrase the governor used in 1996 to put McGrath on hold and is the same phrase that will allow him to do it again.

In a last stroke to the board, the governor goes on to say, ``the current intensive management law . . . is a one-sided approach that placed undue emphasis on the consumptive use of moose, caribou and other ungulates and does not reflect the broad range of values most Alaskans have for wildlife.'' Managing wildlife for abundance, based on the sustained yield principle, is not a ``one-sided approach.'' It puts food on the table and supports abundant game populations, and, by doing so, increases viewing opportunities.

Finally, the governor appointed Leo Keeler to replace Bob Churchill on the Board of Game. Nothing against Leo, but based on his documented attacks on hunting and trapping values, the governor knew he was sending a lamb into the lion's den of confirmation. Everyone knew it. Leo's confirmation was overwhelmingly rejected by a bipartisan vote of 48-9. In his parting shot to the Legislature, the governor said, ``It's been atrocious, the way they treat people.'' Our sentiments exactly Mr. Governor, your actions have been ``atrocious.''

Carl Rosier is president of the Alaska Outdoor Council.



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