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It's time for Alaska to end extreme predator-control measures

  • Author: Fran Mauer
  • Updated: June 26, 2016
  • Published February 25, 2016

Our current fiscal crises will require a "no stone unturned" approach in meeting the challenge we face. Ripe for elimination is the "Intensive Management" (IM) program where the state Department of Fish and Game spends millions to kill wolves and bears trying to increase moose and caribou for hunters. Department reports to the Board of Game reveal outlandish expenditures. For example: during 2012-15, a total of $621,900 was spent to kill 49 wolves ($12,692/wolf) in the upper Koyukuk area; on the North Slope, a total of $349,900 was recently spent to kill seven brown bears at $49,986/bear. There are many similar examples. Statewide IM costs and related research during 2012-15 totaled $5,273,500. And this is an incomplete figure that does not include other administrative costs that are not reported, or the huge amount spent for predator-control research in the McGrath area over the past 15 years.

Predator control has a long and controversial history in Alaska. Over the years a few things have been learned that should be heeded. One is that in most of Alaska and adjacent northern Canada, moose populations that are subject to natural predation often exist at relatively low densities. This is normal. It has also been learned that control programs that remove a large proportion of wolves from an area can sometimes help prey populations increase. Predator control doesn't always result in higher game populations; other factors such as snow conditions can prevent gains. It is clear, however, when control efforts stop, wolves often repopulate quite rapidly, and prey numbers again drop to natural levels.

With full knowledge of this fact, Fish and Game continues to kill wolves year after year at great expense, attempting to satisfy growing numbers of hunters. Where will it end? If wolf control does not result in more game, sometimes bears are added to the kill list. This game-farming program is driven by the Intensive Management Law, passed by the Alaska Legislature in 1994 when the state coffers were overflowing with oil money. Such is not the case today.

Our current Board of Game is made up entirely of hunters and hunting guides even though about 80 percent of Alaskans do not hunt. For the past 12 years or more, no one has been appointed to the BOG who represented the non-hunting interests such as wildlife photography or viewing. Instead we have a BOG that is bent on pushing an aggressive, expensive and frequently ineffective predator-control campaign. A lot of hunters who I know do not support predator control, but even these hunters are not represented. Never mind the fact that wolf viewing in Denali National Park has dropped from 45 percent to five percent in the past five years while the BOG refuses to even consider protection of wolves that venture out of the park. Never mind that a recent economic study sponsored by Fish and Game shows that wildlife viewers spent twice as much as hunters in the state, yet wildlife viewers have no representation on the BOG.

Change is long overdue. We need a Board of Wildlife that represents both hunting and non-hunting interests. So far the governor has failed to address this concern in his appointments to the board. Funding of the wasteful and ineffective Intensive Management programs should be eliminated and the Intensive Management Law repealed. House Bill 152 recently introduced by Rep. Andy Josephson will reform predator control and deserves support.

Alaska needs to rethink its predator conservation policies and programs. We do not have to look far for ideas. Our neighbors in the Yukon Territory have had similar experiences in trying to increase game by lethal predator control, but have realized that it often does not work. Their recently updated Wolf Conservation Plan avoids the endless killing of predators at all costs. Instead it acknowledges up front the lessons learned, as their plan states: "Aerial control is no longer a recommended management tool." It further explains that cost and ethical considerations justified a halt in aerial killing of wolves. Instead the top goal of the Yukon wolf plan is to recognize the important role that wolves play in maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. A growing body of peer-reviewed ecological research supports this premise. The Yukon plan also recognizes a great value for residents and visitors who enjoy experiencing wolves in the Yukon wilderness.

Alaska would do better to recognize the value of all of our wildlife, especially the top predators, which are highly sought by visitors who come here to see them alive and wild in our great wilderness landscapes.

Fran Mauer is an Alaskan resident of 45 years and retired wildlife biologist living in Fairbanks.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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