Predator control

Measure 2 sets better limits on controversial practice

August 23, 2008 

Put aside all the lurid imagery around both sides of predator control for a moment and let's focus on what Ballot Measure 2 does.

The measure does curtail the current predator control program:

• It requires a biological emergency before wolves or grizzly bears can be shot from the air or on the ground the same day as the shooter is airborne.

• It requires aerial predator control to be done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The shooters would have to work for the state. Currently, the state issues permits for private parties to hunt wolves from the air in five game units.

• It ends predator control when enough have been killed to reverse a prey population decline and restore it to health. Aerial predator control can't be used just to boost the numbers of moose or caribou for hunters.

This is the right way to go. And it's nothing new.

Aerial predator control would start only when a prey population was so reduced that unless predators were killed in sufficient numbers, the population would be unlikely to recover. That's what "biological emergency" means. It's a fair standard that returns predator control to its proper place of last resort, rather than an ongoing program, as it has become.

By requiring state personnel to do the shooting, the measure ensures better control of the program. Private shooters are more likely to take wolves or bears outside predator control area boundaries -- in which case they are engaging in illegal aerial hunting. Not all private individuals abuse their permits. But the temptation is there and enforcement is tough and expensive in a big country.

In its official voter pamphlet statement, Fish and Game points out that current policy prohibits department personnel from airborne predator control. This policy is nonsense, a "look, Ma, no hands" way of trying to shield the department against criticism of the controversial practice. The department can't duck responsibility by standing back and saying, "Gee, we're not doing it ourselves."

Fish and Game will have to spend its own money to do the predator control, but that's money well spent to guarantee a sharply focused, closely managed program -- and one based on good science and field research. When Alaska decides it needs predator control, Alaska can afford to do it right.

Opponents of the measure argue that Measure 2 effectively bans predator control. Not true. When Fish and Game does the research that shows wolves and grizzly bears are reducing caribou and moose populations to the point of a high risk of permanent decline, they can take out enough of the predators to restore the caribou and moose.

What this measure does is dial back predator control to the emergency standards and procedures that ruled from 1976 to 1983 -- when wildlife biologists killed 1,300 wolves in control programs. That's not a ban. That's a rational return to a better system that recognizes predators aren't the only factors determining prey populations.

Finally, aerial shooting of wolves or bears is an ugly business, as even proponents concede. Predator control doesn't pretend to be hunting, so proponents of the status quo argue that fair-chase rules don't apply. But we'd argue that hiring private pilots and gunners to run wolves to exhaustion and then blast them from the air with shotguns is something most Alaskans don't support, whatever it's called.

Let professional biologists do the shooting -- preferably from helicopters, which are safer and allow for more accurate fire -- when predator-control shooting has to be done. And let's do it only when necessary, not as a matter of course.

BOTTOM LINE: Measure 2 puts predator control where it belongs, as a last resort. Vote yes.


Alaska Almanac Election odds and ends

38 -- Approximate number of summers that Vic Vickers says he visited Alaska before coming here to run for U.S. Senate.

2002 -- Last time Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave Cuddy lived in Alaska long enough to get a permanent fund dividend.

$100,000 -- Conservative estimate of money the city lost after Mayor Begich's administration cut an overpriced deal on a downtown parking lot with developer and supporter Mark Pfeffer.

? -- Amount of money U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens has spent on lawyers for his corruption case. (He won't say.)

2 -- Minimum number of times U.S. Rep. Don Young has referred to Republican opponent Sean Parnell as a "zero."

60% -- Portion of Republican U.S. House candidate Gabrielle LeDoux's campaign money that has come from her own pocket.

40% -- Portion of the vote Diane Benson got against Don Young in 2006.

1 -- Number of Prius hybrid electric cars Democratic U.S. House candidate Ethan Berkowitz says he owns.

1 -- Objectionable Don Young earmarks Sean Parnell identified when asked for five examples during a TV debate.

Sources: Daily News files.

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