My Turn: The ebb and flow of nature

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

I am a lifelong resident of Juneau whose father hunted and trapped this area from 1936 to 1972. I began trapping and hunting with him at the age of 8 (1955) and have continued hunting through today. Most of this time has been spent on the mainland south of Juneau, Douglas Island and Admiralty. First I am a meat hunter, have never shot a dear out of season, have shot only one bear (many opportunities) and find the wanton waste mentioned by Mr. Barrick as abhorrent as he does. In fact I found one of the deer shot this summer on the North Douglas road. These people are not hunters but criminals.

After listening to the emotional, inaccurate stories and fables about the brown bears and wolves on Douglas Island I would like to give a few facts and some history. In the last 45 years since I shot my first deer on the mainland and the second one on Douglas I have spent as much time in these woods and along the beaches as anyone I know. The first time I heard of brown bear on Douglas was of one shot in the late '40s. I know of one shot in the '60s and '70s on North Douglas and I saw one in the '80s on a mountain on South Douglas. There have been from time to time a brown bear on Douglas, always has been, always will be. They do swim very well and can walk across the bar at the airport at any time.

This also goes for wolves. I was told years ago by an old timer that there was a large pack of wolves in Fish Creek Valley in the '30s. My father trapped them by the Mendenhall Glacier in the late '30s. In the '70s, there was a couple in Fish Creek Valley and I saw one on the beach by Point Hilda in the late '70s. Four years ago I saw one in my yard at Lucky Me at the south end of Douglas. I had seen his sign two weeks before on the mountain behind my place. There are still wolves on Douglas. Just because you can't kayak around Douglas and see or hear them doesn't mean they aren't there. Trapping has taken place for years around here and in my mind is part of the ebb and flow of nature. There is no "balance of nature" only ebb and flow. The brown bear have not been exterminated nor have the wolves, so let's keep the hysteria down. In fact, the wolf and brown bear populations in Alaska are at an all time high.

From the '50s through the '70s, we had a cabin between Point Salisbury and Point Bishop and I hunted the mainland on top of the mountains. We hunted from August to December and never saw wolf sign but we always saw mountain goats across the big valleys behind Bishop. We trapped every year from 1955-72 and never had a wolf on the mainland. In the late '70s the wolves moved in and we found seven wolf-kill deer carcasses in one day between Salisbury and Bishop. In the '80s I was back on top of the mountain watching a half dozen goats when I saw two wolves run two goats up a ridge into seven others. The word was the mountain goats had caught a disease and were over-hunted. I knew then that the diminishing goat herds in the Juneau area was not due just to over-hunting or disease. Hunting was closed (as it should have been). Goats were transplanted and yet they still didn't recover well. While grouse hunting in the early '90s, I found more wolf scat on the mountain behind Point Bishop than I had seen in my lifetime. That winter nine wolves were trapped there. Since then I have watched the goat herd across from my cabin increase from being able to see five once in a while to seeing 12-16 nightly. Part of the ebb and flow of nature, if you include trapping.

As for porcupines, my father said never to kill one as they were the only thing slow enough for a human to catch and eat if you were stuck in the woods but I will not swerve to miss one if it would endanger the lives of myself, my passengers or the people in the oncoming lane. Some may feel that is a cruel statement from a hunter but my upbringing tells me it is common sense.

Tim Whiting is lifelong resident of Juneau who has been trapping and hunting since 1955.

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