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Should Alaska Board of Game include wildlife spectators, too?

I am always amused by people who support America's mission to establish democracies around the world, yet who are determined to subvert democracy here at home. I am likewise amused by people who protest against government coercion, yet who revel in tyrannizing anyone who doesn't see the world their way.

According to our state Constitution, the Board of Game is supposed to represent the interests of all Alaskans. Its members should include representatives from all major "interest" groups. It should not be monolithic. Each member should strive to find ways to meet the needs of all interest groups, instead of trying to hog all the wildlife for just one interest -- harvest.

Say what you will about people needing moose and caribou to eat. I know what need means first-hand. I have lived deep in the bush where we would have starved if we had failed to bag a moose in the autumn. Now, by contrast, eating moose and caribou is not a need but a luxury for me, one which I enjoy but don't pretend is still a matter of survival. It costs many Alaskans more money to harvest wild game than to buy meat in a supermarket -- at least if harvest requires a rifle worth a couple of thousand bucks, a $10,000 4-wheeler, trailer, pickup truck, or chartering or owning an airplane.

Furthermore, much of the push for "Intensive Management" comes from the hunting guide industry and the businesses that guided hunters support (sporting goods stores, ATV dealers, firearms, air taxi, etc.) That is fine. Perfectly legitimate. But so is the wildlife viewing industry.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, viewing contributes an estimated $700 million per year to Alaska's economy – much more than hunting does. At least viewing did before "Intensive Management" was shoved down our throats. I have yet to see even a hint that the Board of Game was seriously trying to understand the needs of the wildlife viewing industry, much less to find ways to sustain that industry. Why torpedo one industry to favor another, especially when careful planning would allow them to coexist? Why deny Alaskans one form of recreation in favor of another, when both forms could coexist?

Coexistence? Is that really possible? Easily. Most needs of wildlife viewers, whether viewing is done for profit or pleasure, could be met by tailoring management for viewing in just a miniscule portion of Alaska, leaving rest of our State lands to be managed for hunting. Yet the Board has never, to my knowledge, offered to sit down with viewers and work out a plan.

Of course, viewers are welcome to submit proposals. Some of us have. Only to see them treated with blatant contempt.

Those of us involved in wildlife viewing, especially "predator" viewing, have been stonewalled whenever we try to discuss this issue with board members. They aren't there to serve Alaskans in all our diversity, but only that small segment of Alaskans belonging to groups such as the Outdoor Council. "Winner take all" politics at its most venal.

Recall the old saying, "Man cannot live by bread alone." Nor can we live by meat alone, not in the modern world. Think about this: Do you reap benefits from any business supported by the wildlife viewing industry -- for instance do you own or work in a restaurant, gas station, lodge/hotel/motel/B&B, grocery store, sporting goods store, etc.? If so, the Board of Game's fanatical focus on maximizing moose and caribou numbers to the exclusion of all other benefits from wildlife could eventually be taking money out of your pocket. It could be depriving you of a variety of other benefits too.

It's long past time for our Legislature to refuse to seat any new member on the Game Board who does not represent the wildlife viewing industry. In fact, it should flush the entire existing board and replace it with a whole panel of new members who represent the whole spectrum of interests dear to the heart of Alaskans, as well as deep knowledge about wildlife biology and ecology.

Meanwhile, the existing Board should abandon its comic-book biology approach to wildlife management, and learn enough science to understand what it really takes to sustain game populations in perpetuity.

No, Governor Parnell, privatizing Alaska's wildlife is not the answer; and giving kickbacks to hunting organizations that provide your campaign contributions is anything but ethical, even when kickbacks take the form of an organization being able to auction off special hunting opportunities. Graft and corruption aren't confined to extractive industries.

Stephen F. Stringham, Ph.D., is director of the Bear Viewing Association, a consulting wildlife biologist and president of WildWatch LLC.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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