Alaska’s Wildlife Management Bias

OPINION by Sean McGuire: Alaska’s Wildlife Management Bias

Photo: Brad Josephs

News-Miner Community Perspective:

Using science to manage Alaska’s wildlife is what both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game have claimed they’re doing as their basic principle. But it has become increasingly obvious that it’s actually politics driving them, not science. Now we have another painful example of 1800s-era wolf-hating politics trumping science.

Fish and Game recently released a report about the 12-year Forty Mile wolf-killing program. The state has spent many millions of dollars and killed more than a thousand wolves in this program. In 2016, it cost the department $37,384 per wolf killed by the department. Now, their own report states that this wolf-killing program has had little or no effect on the caribou population. That’s not me saying that, although I and many others have been saying it. This is their own wildlife biologists telling them unequivocally that the wolves are not the issue, it’s the carrying capacity of the land.

So if science were their guiding principle, the killing of these wolves would immediately be stopped. But guess what? The department stated that they are going to continue putting these super intelligent, socially complex animals through the terrible fear and stress of being hunted down with airplanes and helicopters.

The Alaska Constitution says the fish and wildlife belong to all Alaskans. Unfortunately, a situation has evolved over several decades where one minority special interest group of sport hunters and guides has gained so much control over decision making that it has a total monopoly. All other voices are completely shut out.

Tourism employs more Alaskans by far than any industry, yet they have zero representation on the game board. Ditto those involved in education, conservation, photography and myriad other interests. I believe the majority of Alaskans enjoy and are proud of the fact that we have one of the last places on the planet to see wild bears and wolves. The game board members represent the interests of just one small segment of the population. The voices and opinions of the of the majority of Alaskans who don’t have hunting or trapping licenses are routinely and completely ignored.

When the game board or, to a lesser extent, Fish and Game or any governing body is captured by one interest group, you inevitably get unjust and extreme policies.

We have witnessed this extreme bias unfold since 2010, when the game board canceled the buffer zone banning wolf hunting near Denali Park. Denali’s iconic wolves and bears have been routinely and legally lured out of the park with bait and gunned down or trapped. The renowned Toklat Pack, the most studied, most photographed wolf pack in world history, was wiped out. The park’s wolf population dropped by almost two-thirds; viewership by park visitors went from 49 percent to 5 percent. The outrage continues to grow, with more than 60 letters to the editor, many opinion pieces across the state, articles in major newspapers and magazines nationally and internationally, a Borough Assembly resolution, large protests and finally HB 105, a bill to reinstate the buffer, passed in the state House of Representatives. In the face of this backlash, it would appear to be an easy decision. But no, the game board voted unanimously to not only continue letting the handful of hunters and trappers destroy this world class resource but refuse to even discuss the controversy until the 2020 meeting.

A lot of credit should be given to Rod Boertje and the authors of this peer-reviewed report on the Forty Mile wolf-killing program. But it is painful now to see officials at Fish and Game so completely wed to killing wolves that they are willing to completely ignore their own science. Basically, they’re saying they don’t care about the data, they’re just going to keep killing wolves.

This entire 1800’s frontier kill-the-wolves-and-bears dynamic has become an embarrassment for Alaska.

Photo: Brad Josephs