Debates about predator control are often heated, in part, because Alaskans have different values and care deeply about how wildlife is managed in our great state. I know and understand that predator control is a very controversial issue, and respect the thoughts and concerns of those who disagree with the actions that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is taking.
However, Fish and Game has been working diligently and extensively to rebuild moose and caribou populations around the state to provide the level of harvest needed by Alaskans. As most Alaskans know, managing predators is the most effective and efficient, and often the only way to restore wildlife populations for the continued benefit of Alaskans. Fish and Game has been committed to reducing predator populations in areas where predators have depressed moose and caribou populations to levels that cannot provide the harvest necessary for Alaskans.
That is why, in 2003, Fish and Game launched the first wolf control program in Alaska in more than a decade. Last winter, an effective program to reduce wolf populations was conducted in two areas of Alaska. Under the program, permits for aerial shooting and/or land-and-shoot taking were issued to qualified members of the public, who achieved the goal of taking 20 wolves in the McGrath area and 130 in the Nelchina Basin. This winter, with the Governor's support and authorization from the Alaska Board of Game, the department will expand its wolf control program into three additional areas.
In some places, predation on moose calves by black and/or grizzly bears is keeping populations at very low levels. To address predation by bears, Fish and Game conducted an experiment over the last two years that involved removing bears from moose calving areas. The experiment, which was conducted simultaneously with wolf control, removed more than 100 bears from the McGrath area and confirmed the importance of bears in the moose-predator equation. In the future, liberal bear hunting regulations and some form of active bear management will be employed to help achieve the production and survival rates needed to meet moose management goals.
More recently, the Alaska Board of Game authorized the department to implement a program to reduce the grizzly bear population in a small portion of the eastern interior of Alaska (portions of Game Management Unit 20 E). Under this plan, Fish and Game will issue predator management permits to selected individuals who will be allowed to bait grizzly bears in areas where moose calving is concentrated. Fish and Game fully supports this plan and believes that this approach will successfully reduce the grizzly bear population in this area to the desired level.
Thus far, the wolf and bear control programs authorized by the Board of Game for implementation by the department have employed the least controversial methods that will allow us to achieve our goals. Fish and Game endorses this approach because it is the responsible approach and will establish a predator management program that is effective and sustainable over the long-term.
Having a responsible and sustainable predator control program is of the utmost importance because it will take several years for predator management programs to produce results. The department is committed to this approach and will continue to work with the Board of Game to ensure that Alaskans are able to obtain the levels of harvest that they need.
Kevin C. Duffy lives in Juneau and is the outgoing commissioner for Alaska Department of Fish and Game.