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Fish & Game's Leader Wrong on Wolf Control Letter

Opinion / Dave Klein / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 29, 2005

Acting Fish and Game Commissioner Wayne Regelin, in his Jan. 24 Community Perspective on predator control, suggested that there were "misinterpretations" of the National Research Council report titled "Wolves, Bears and Their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management" (1997, National Academy Press) as expressed in the recently circulated letter on predator control signed by more than 100 professional wildlife biologists. As a signatory of the letter and as a member of the NRC committee that produced the 1997 report, I think it would be more accurate to say that there has been misunderstanding of what the report does include and of its concluding recommendations.

The letter does not misinterpret the findings of the report as suggested by Acting Commissioner Regelin. Rather, it specifically emphasizes those instances where the recent predator control programs approved by the Board of Game are at variance with the recommendations of the NRC report. I strongly agree with Acting Commissioner Regelin's encouragement that members of the public draw their own conclusions about the predator control programs undertaken by the Department of Fish and Game after reading the NRC report. It is, however, naïve on both his and my parts to assume that more than a few will find the time to locate and read the 207-page report. Therefore, I have listed a few of the specific conclusions and recommendations from the NRC report that provide the primary support for the "scientists' letter":

* "Before any predator management efforts are undertaken, the status of the predator and prey populations should be evaluated and the carrying capacity of the prey's environment should be evaluated."

* "Wolves and bears should be managed using an 'adaptive management' approach in which management actions are planned so that it is possible to assess the outcome."

* "Collaborative relationships among ADF&G and the land management agencies and jurisdictions should be strengthened so that habitat studies and habitat management efforts are well coordinated."

* "Future [predator control] experiments should be based on more thorough assessment of baseline conditions and should be designed so that the causes of subsequent changes can be determined."

* "A formal procedure should be created, with adequate resources and trained personnel, to gather relevant economic, social, and cultural data and to incorporate this information into management and decision making. The specific tools of benefit-cost analysis and applied anthropology should be used in the analyses performed on those data."

* "A formal conflict resolution process should be developed and adopted to help avoid the kind of intractable and wasteful dispute that has characterized the recent history of wolf and bear management in Alaska."

Acting Commissioner Regelin correctly points out that the NRC report does not recommend that an intensive research project be conducted before implementing each and every predator management program, nor does the scientists' letter. Our letter emphasizes that for each case "the status of predator and prey populations should be evaluated and the carrying capacity of the prey's environment should be evaluated." This is what has long been considered important information for effective management of caribou, moose, deer, and other ungulates in Alaska.

Intensive management of predators today to increase prey populations requires far more understanding of both predators and prey and the complexity of their local habitat relationships than has been the case in the past with single species management. Clearly, the governor and Legislature need to provide Fish and Game with adequate budgetary support if they expect its biologists and managers to lay the groundwork for adaptive and more intensive management of Alaska's wildlife resources on a sustainable basis.

Dave Klein is professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is a former employee of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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