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Wake Up!  Let's Halt Predator Control

"In Alaska, moose and caribou are our livestock. ... We are just trying to protect our livestock like any other state."

John Manly, spokesman for Gov. Frank Murkowski, Fall 2003

Opinion / Bill Sherwonit / Anchorage Daily News / February 5, 2005

The protectors of Alaska's livestock are getting bolder and bolder. At the rate they're going, all of our state-owned lands will someday be turned into one giant game farm. That's the goal, isn't it? To "manage" the wildlife so that state lands become ungulate-rich and predator-poor (or even predator-free)?

You may laugh at such a notion, ridicule it as the ranting of a wolf- and bear-loving pagan. But consider this: When our state's so-called sportsmen began the latest push for predator control in the 1990s, they claimed their desire was to reduce wolf numbers in limited areas, where moose and caribou populations had dropped to disturbingly low levels.

Then Frank Murkowski was elected governor.

After Manly uttered his ranching analogy last year, I suggested that Murkowski and his Board of Game would organize wolf-killing programs all over Alaska, if possible.

Well, whaddayaknow? One year later, our state-run predator-control program now ranges across Southcentral, Southwest and Interior Alaska. By next spring, state-approved pilot-gunner teams may kill as many as 580 wolves spread across an estimated 50,000 square miles of land. As one biologist has noted, it's Alaska's most ambitious predator-kill effort since before statehood.

A progressive state we are not.

In one way, this newest predator kill-off will surpass anything attempted previously by including grizzly bears. In the past, the grizzly's charismatic nature had kept it off the undesirable-vermin list. No longer.

This is happening despite Alaska Department of Fish and Game polls and citizen initiatives that show most Alaskans oppose land-and-shoot killing of wolves and aerial wolf control except in cases of "biological emergencies." And we prefer broad-based ecosystem management to preferred-species methods favoring one critter over another.

How to explain this paradox? Either most Alaskans are asleep, or uninformed, or apathetic. Some of us have been shouting "wake up, wake up" for years. Occasionally people pay attention, as when Alaskans voted twice to ban same-day-airborne hunting of wolves and restrict wolf control to emergency situations. But few people seemed to notice when the Alaska Legislature enacted laws requiring "intensive management" practices, despite the adamant opposition of wildlife scientists throughout the state. And most residents stayed quiet when Gov. Murkowski stacked the Board of Game with hunters and trappers biased toward predator reduction.

And so Alaska's wildlife-management system is today controlled by old-school ideologues who have the very narrowest notion of what wildlife management should be. These are people who remain convinced that ungulates -- or "livestock" -- are good, wolves (and now bears) are bad, or undesirable enough to kill in large numbers. In fact, they remain managers of wild game, not wildlife. And those managers are heavily influenced by "sportsmen's" groups, particularly the Alaska Outdoor Council. Most AOC members are not rural, subsistence-dependent folks; they're urban sport hunters, who want to kill off wolves and bears so they'll have an easier time getting their game.

I'm philosophically opposed to predator control, but I suppose I could accept a minimalist approach, applied in cases of true, localized emergencies, for instance where no other actions could reasonably address the food requirements of subsistence-dependent Bush residents.

But I absolutely cannot accept a wolf and bear reduction program to benefit sport hunters seeking increased opportunities to kill moose and caribou. To me, it's an unnecessary and repulsive practice that reflects our culture's all-too-harmful utilitarian attitude to the Earth and other life forms: What's clearly useful to humans is valuable; what's not -- who cares?

You don't have to believe exactly as I do to know that predator control is a wrong-headed "management tool," especially as it's being practiced now, for reasons ranging from ethical to scientific. I'm really not sure where we go from here to turn things around. I only know it's time, once more, for Alaskans to loudly say no to predator control.

Bill Sherwonit is an Anchorage nature writer.


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