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State predator program subject of wildlife talk

Posted: Friday, November 20, 2009

Politics are constraining the state's predator control program, which is sorely missing some sound science, according to wildlife biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe.

Van Ballenberghe will discuss the reasons for his opinion tonight as the last speaker for this season's Evening at Egan lecture series.

The wildlife biologist is uniquely positioned to speak on the controversial subject of predator control in Alaska, said University of Alaska Southeast sociology professor Alex Simon, who sponsored the speaker.

Van Ballenberghe's retirement allows him to speak independently, without concern for his career, Simon said.

Retired nearly a decade ago from the U.S. Forest Service as a research biologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, Van Ballenberghe specialized in studying moose, completing a three-decade study in Denali National Park.

He worked in the late 1970s for the state Department of Fish and Game and was appointed to the state Board of Game three times. He last served on the board in 2002.

He doesn't oppose the idea of predator control, but it should be based on basic information, such as the prey population and what you want it to be - information Alaska's program lacks, Van Ballenberghe said.

Predator control in Alaska involves shooting wolves and sometimes bear from aircraft to reduce their numbers so moose and caribou herd numbers increase.

More than 1,000 wolves have been killed under the program since it was reinstated in 2003. The program has been challenged in court by wildlife advocacy groups.

Van Ballenberghe's speech will address the missing science, but as for politics, it is too early to tell how the Parnell administration will influence predator control in Alaska, he said.

"When (former Govs. Frank Murkowski and Sarah Palin) were elected, they both came in with a strong agenda favoring predator control," he said.

But the problem of managing wildlife is a biological one, he argues.

"When the political process overrides the biological process, there's a prescription for problems," he said.

His speech is at 7 p.m. at the university's Egan Lecture Hall.



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