My Turn: Predator-killing programs don't work for Alaskans

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2004

The state of Alaska is attempting to minimize public outcry over the massive aerial wolf killing programs currently underway on tens of thousands of square miles in Alaska. The vast majority of Alaskans are opposed to aerial and same-day wolf killing, and have twice voted to ban it.

The state is misleading citizens when it claims it needs to rebuild moose and caribou populations to provide food for Alaskans. The facts show the Alaska Board of Game is unnecessarily trying to inflate moose and caribou populations to historical high numbers, which will ultimately result in the same eruptions and subsequent crashes that occurred in the late sixties and seventies. There are nearly 175,000 moose and more than 1million caribou in Alaska. No areas exist where moose or caribou are biologically threatened or endangered.

The governor's appointees claim that "managing predators is the most effective and efficient, and often the only, way to restore wildlife populations." A $300,000 study commissioned by the state entitled "Wolves, Bears and their Prey in Alaska," by the National Academy of Sciences, disagrees. It found that many of the biological relationships assumed in Alaska's predator control programs are not well understood and stated that insufficient information exists to conclude that such programs increase prey populations.

These programs allege to be for local subsistence users, and yet the Department of Fish and Game's (ADF&G) own data show that non-local and nonresident sport hunters take as much as 75 percent of the moose harvest in Unit 13 (Glenallen), 68 percent in Unit 16B (Cook Inlet), 54 percent in Unit 12/20E (Tok) and 85 percent in Unit 19B (Central Kuskokwim).

Unknown to many Alaskans is that wolf control without the use of aircraft has been occurring in Interior Alaska for nearly a decade. Liberalized seasons, bag limits and methods are being applied in at least five areas, including near Fairbanks, where moose calves and cows are killed because predator control has resulted in unnatural explosions of moose populations in that area. Biologists fear this overpopulation would cause extensive habitat damage. In some of these areas, hunters can kill up to 10 wolves per day, beginning in early August when pelts have no value. Chasing wolves with snowmachines, and then shooting them point blank is also permitted to radically decrease the number of wolves.

The Board of Game is now targeting brown bears in its control efforts. Next spring, hunters will be able to bait and kill 60 percent of the brown bears in one area. The state is even considering offering a financial incentive (bounty) for the killing of brown bears under this program.

All of the current wolf and bear killing programs are being conducted using extremely controversial methods. Alaskans voted to ban aerial or same-day airborne wolf killing by private hunters in two statewide referenda. Aerial and same-day airborne wolf killing is unsportsmanlike, and leads to abuses as we have just seen with the two private pilots recently charged with killing wolves using aircraft outside the control area.

Prior to the Murkowski administration, ADF&G was opposed to private hunters engaging in state-sponsored predator control. More recently, ADF&G biologists have advised against aerial wolf killing in one area, and provided no recommendation for two others. The concerns of these biologists and Alaskan voters have been ignored by Gov. Murkowski and his Board of Game.

The state suggests that these programs are working, despite the fact that they 1) go against the wishes of the Alaskan public, 2) completely ignore sound science, and 3) are primarily for the benefit of sport hunters. With that in mind, exactly what is it about these programs that is working?

• Karen Deatherage is the Alaska program associate for Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage.



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