My turn: Predator management benefits all

Posted: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Whether you are a hunter, photographer, sightseer or ardent preservationist, healthy wildlife populations are a benefit to you. Depletion of game populations due to weather, over-hunting or predation not only reduces the health and number of predators and prey; it also reduces the opportunity for viewing and consumptive use. Managing for moderately high game populations is comparable to having a good paying job and money in the bank.

Having served as a wildlife biologist for the state of Alaska for nearly 30 years and currently serving my third term on the Alaska Board of Game, I have heard and seriously considered more than my fair share of management scenarios. Although there are valid points of concern on both sides of the predator management issue, the long-term health of habitat and our wildlife should not be compromised for the sake of emotionally driven interests. This applies to hunters, non-hunters and anti-hunters.

A recent commentary by the director of Alaska Wildlife Alliance contains numerous misleading statements regarding the goals of Alaska's administration, Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game. Although I disagree, I still respect Toppenberg's opinions and I realize it's his job. Toppenberg is correct in his statement "the state's wildness is at risk" but only if we do not actively manage our wildlife resources. This was clearly demonstrated during the Tony Knowles administration, when Alaska's moose populations started into precipitous decline under the governor's nonmanagement policies.

Unfortunately, most people can not take time out of their busy schedules to attend Board of Game meetings to hear public testimony, and listen to scientific information presented by Fish and Game and Board deliberation before decisions are made. If you are interested in what actually occurred and how and why decisions were made, I encourage you to visit the Fish and Game Web site at: www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=control.main. This site explains the intensive management mandates the board is obligated to follow and the predator management programs and goals.

As an example, predator management in the Glennallen area started in 2000 and has resulted in a 26 percent increase in the number of moose. There are more moose to view and photograph; in the 20 days per year that this area is open to hunting, the harvest has doubled. Prior to the program, this moose population was experiencing an annual 4 percent decline, primarily due to wolf and bear predation. Calf survival and recruitment are the keys to population growth.

The Board of Game has been very clear; when we authorize a predator management program we intend on it staying in place long enough to produce scientifically defendable data for the public to review. This is a controversial issue and the public deserves to know the facts. We are now reaching this point and I encourage you to investigate the results.

Additionally, once the decision is made to manage predators, the most efficient approach should be used. With their high rate of productivity, wolves can withstand a 35 percent annual harvest without any reduction in overall numbers the next year. Prolonging predator reduction by using less efficient methods only results in killing at least two to three times as many wolves. Wolves and bears are a unique part of Alaska's wildlife, the objective of Fish and Game and Board of Game is to temporarily reduce the density of predators in an area to allow the moose population to increase. As a result, this will sustain healthy predator and prey populations into the future for all users.

In regards to diversity of the Board of Game, comprehension of animal husbandry and habitat and the understanding of predator to prey relationships are imperative to a well functioning board. The Board of Game is mandated by law to manage on a sustainable yield basis, for the benefit of all Alaskans. Actively managing wildlife populations achieves this goal.

• Ted Spraker is a retired state Fish and Game biologist and vice chairman of the Alaska Board of Game. He lives in Soldotna.



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