Feds wage war on Alaska management of its fish and game

This past year has seen an unprecedented seizure of state wildlife management authority by federal bureaucrats intent on destroying science-based wildlife management here in Alaska.

In an unwarranted action, the Department of Interior has broken nearly every promise made to our state through the statehood compact and the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act , stripping Alaska of its hard-fought right to manage our state's fish and wildlife resources. These guarantees were sought by our founding fathers to ensure Alaskans could manage our resources for their sustained yields and use, a key factor leading to our decision to gain statehood.

In rolling out these rules, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, viciously attacked the state wildlife program in a Huffington Post article stating the "Alaska Board of Game has unleashed a withering attack on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America's long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting" that "defies modern science of predator-prey relationships."

I have been anxiously awaiting the state response to this unwarranted and unfair characterization of its time proven management program, but sadly none has come. It appears the Walker/Mallot administration is more worried about "getting along" than it is in defending Alaska's hard-won guarantees to manage our fish and wildlife resources for their sustained yields and uses by our residents and defending our time-proven management successes.

[Alaska shoots itself in the foot over fish and game on federal land.]

The state of Alaska has an excellent and well-recognized history of managing its fish and game resources for their sustained use and benefits. We're not just a gun-and-go state as portrayed by Ashe, but a state committed to wise use of the lands we are blessed with. Alaskans have the experience, from cutting edge scientists developing and using the latest technology to the wisdom of Native elders, to determine how and why fish and game should be managed and how the public will benefit.

And let me assure you, the commitment of Alaska to ensuring the benefits of its resources goes beyond the harvest of animals. Since statehood, Alaska has set aside, for conservation purposes, nearly 10 million acres of its lands as dedicated conservation units, including the two of the largest state parks in the nation. These lands support hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing, research and education opportunities found nowhere else.


I also note the only species managed to ensure against their extinction under the Endangered Species Act in Alaska are those been managed under federal authorities – no species primarily managed by the state have ever required such protection.

So why should Alaskans be worried with this new federal intrusion into our state authorities? The Interior Department is replacing time-proven, traditional "active" state management with a "hands-off" management approach.  Let me give you a real example of how this plays out.

On Unimak Island, Interior officials has elevated its hands-off management philosophy over sound principles of wildlife management. On this island, without active management of both predator and prey populations, an indigenous caribou population has a high likelihood of disappearing. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined it would be acceptable for these caribou to, in the agency's words, "blink out."

This, despite one of the refuge's established purposes being the conservation of those very caribou and their subsistence uses. The application of this "hands-off" approach throughout Alaska's refuges could put many other populations of moose, caribou, deer and elk at risk, and as a result, seriously reduce opportunities for hunters, including subsistence hunters.

This makes one wonder what is in store for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Will the Porcupine caribou herd be allowed to someday become extirpated from this refuge under the new management philosophy? How will this impact local communities dependent on caribou for subsistence?

What is clear is Alaska will no longer be able to actively manage its fish and wildlife populations on federal lands for their sustained yields and benefits, including hunting and fishing. Hunting and fishing will no longer be a primary objective, and management for these uses will no longer be a priority. This greatly concerns me, and should concern all of you who rely on these resources to feed your families.

Under such a hands-off approach it is questionable whether the state will be allowed to continue to actively manage its moose and caribou populations for human use, or whether the state will be allowed to manage its sheep and bear populations for trophy-hunting opportunities. Alaska's active management of its salmon runs for optimal sustained yield and human use is also under question, and whether Alaska subsistence hunters can use traditional practices to feed their families.

Perhaps even more troubling are the other aspects of the new regulations that will make it easier for the federal government to unilaterally pre-empt other state hunting regulations in the future, based on undefined assessments conducted by federal employees. Many of these employees will be new to Alaska and will have little to no experience in traditional Alaska hunting practices.

I urge Gov. Bill Walker and Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten to stand up and challenge these unwarranted intrusions and defend our hard-won guarantees under ANILCA. They should defend our proven and successful management history.  I also urge our congressional delegation to roll back these unwarranted intrusions. Failure to do so will be to surrender statehood rights our founding fathers fought so hard to obtain.

Doug Vincent-Lang is a former director or wildlife conservation for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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