All of the best hunters I know are keen year-round observers of wildlife but do not begrudge other Alaskans who simply prefer watching wildlife. The same cannot be said for a minority of wildlife activists who do not hunt and do not want anyone else to hunt, either.
This appears to be the case with the sponsors of Ballot Measure 2, which would halt all on-going state predation management programs to restore productive moose and caribou populations in areas open to hunting.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has long recognized its public trust responsibility for managing wildlife to provide a diversity of use opportunities to meet public demands. Over the years, ADFG has worked with the Alaska Legislature to create and protect several special areas with unique wildlife viewing opportunities, some right in our largest cities. Other areas are managed to provide for multiple uses of wildlife, including well-regulated hunting.
In a few cases over the years, ADFG biologists have undertaken more active management programs to reintroduce wildlife species such as musk ox and wood bison to historic range. In rare cases ADFG has conducted intensive management, including temporary reductions in wolf numbers, to halt declines and allow recovery of extremely low moose and caribou herds so that reasonable levels of wildlife uses can be restored.
Few things in life are more discouraging for a wildlife biologist than flying moose surveys in late fall and counting fewer than 20 calves still surviving out of 120 born only five months earlier due to excessive predation. Experienced managers know that during the next winter even more will be killed by wolves before they reach adulthood. Extremely low moose populations (less than one moose per two square miles) exhibiting such poor calf survival are in a "predator pit", and will remain in this low density equilibrium without intensive predator management.
Even complete hunting closures have proved ineffective in allowing recovery of such depressed moose populations because hunting selects for males and harvests are too low to have any biological effect. This was certainly the case for the moose population north of Tok in the late 1970s when moose continued to decline despite five years of closed moose hunting seasons to a low of only one moose per five square miles.
Supporters of Ballot Measure 2 opposed an ADFG wolf reduction program at that time, but Gov. Jay Hammond allowed the program to proceed. The program was halted due to political pressure in 1983, but recovery of the moose population and the equally depressed Fortymile Caribou Herd had already begun. By 1990 moose numbers had doubled, and the caribou herd's numbers had tripled. Supporters of Ballot Measure 2 continue to deny the need for, or benefits of, predation management programs such as this even though they have benefited hunters and wildlife watchers alike. Other successful programs have been conducted in the McGrath area, the Tanana Flats and the Copper Basin with similar results.
In all predation management areas wolf populations remain healthy because of greater numbers of prey.
The constant criticisms of ADFG by those opposed to active wildlife management ring hollow because of the professionalism and dedication of Alaska's wildlife biologists who have dedicated their careers to meeting the needs of all Alaskans. As an Athabascan elder friend of mine from the Upper Tanana area recently observed while we mused about the history of wildlife in this region, "Things are a lot better for the people now than they used to be."
Please keep those words of experience in mind on Tuesday and join me and Alaska's current ranks of professional wildlife biologists in voting no on Ballot Measure 2.
David Kelleyhouse was the director of Wildlife Conservation Division from 1991 to 1995, residing in Tok.