This letter is in response to Dennis Harris' Nov. 9 letter to the editor. Mr. Harris' letter was in reference to an article in the Nov. 6 Empire ("It's winter, time for a snow hunt" by Eric Morrison). I was quoted in the article. I believe that my name was used by Mr. Harris only as an example of a ptarmigan hunter who hunts with dogs. To my knowledge, we have never met.
Several comments made by Mr. Harris are of interest to me. I find it necessary to respond. He makes three statements : 1) ptarmigan populations have decreased, 2) dogs are one reason for this decline, and 3) dogs were not used traditionally in Southeast Alaska ptarmigan hunting. First, bird populations are constantly in flux. Without a directed study, we cannot ascertain the reasons why or if the populations are changing. A few opportunistic observations do not give us useful information on population density. I have had discussions with "longtime" locals who have not observed Mr. Harris' claim at decreased population sizes. As with everything, an opinion is just that without any scientific data to support it.
Second, Mr. Harris seems to think that ptarmigan get sensitized to dogs. If that were true, then ptarmigan around Juneau would be "skittish" since dogs are found accompanying people in all of our endeavors, not just hunting. But, as all hikers know, this is not the case. Anyone who has ptarmigan hunted with dogs (or any upland game bird) knows that ptarmigan treat dogs like they treat any other four-legged predator. They usually ignore them unless they get too close. Once the human starts shooting, the birds then scatter. I think Mr. Harris has forgotten that people are the predators that influence our bird populations, not dogs.
Lastly, most "longtime" Juneau hunters I know hunt with dogs and have "traditionally" done so. I do not hunt without a dog because retrieval of wounded or dead birds is difficult. In fact, some hunters would argue that bird hunting without dogs is unethical for this reason.
Advocating one hunting method over another is a controversial topic in any forum. I do not agree with exclusive access by one user group to our natural resources. The Alaska Board of Game is a forum that allows a citizen to propose changes to hunting regulations. I would suggest this topic be left to that process.
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