Hunters Try Wolf Killing Once Again
In a pocket park just up the street from the Millennium Alaskan Hotel Monday morning, about 30 people were holding a howl-in to protest the possibility of aerial wolf hunting.
They had signs both large -- "The world is watching / Save our wolves" -- and small -- "We're howling mad."
They had signed petition sheets from Canada and Norway and Pennsylvania and England and Colorado demanding "a complete cessation of government sponsored wolf killing in Alaska."
They had wolf-like animals, courtesy of Wolf Country USA.
What they didn't have was a scintilla of influence with the state Board of Game, which is meeting at the hotel to consider letting people shoot wolves from the air.
You might be able to go back in state history and find a Game Board less sympathetic to the protesters' interests. But you'd have to hunt. The steady resistance of the state Legislature to any sort of balance has created a series of boards that represent only the narrow band of Alaska society that hunts. On this version, all six men are hunters; the one woman is a guide as well.
This makes the Millennium a perfect spot for the board to meet. To get to the third-floor meeting room, you have to first cross a lobby that features a polar bear mounted in one glass enclosure, a rampant grizzly in another, a mountain lion lying on a faux branch high on a wall, a sheep's head flanked by sheep's horns and a whole sheep mounted in mid-leap in a glass case. Walking up the stairs, you pass under a polar bear hide and a turkey mounted in full flight, then pass a musk ox in a glass cage. Fantasyland for hunters.
A Game Board that represents only the interests of hunters is increasingly out of step with the majority opinion about wolves, both inside Alaska and out. Alaskans have twice passed initiatives to ban the practice of spotting wolves from the air, landing and shooting them. It stands to reason that they also oppose the proposal to skip the landing and just shoot them from the air.
While most Alaskans disdain the practice of using airplanes to hunt wolves, most Outsiders -- and here I'm including people from all over the world -- object to killing them at all. The last time the state announced an aerial wolf-killing program, a tourism boycott made then-Gov. Wally Hickel abandon the idea. Another boycott is, of course, being threatened.
Why, then, does the Game Board keep coming back to killing wolves? The short answer is: politics.
Hunters dominate the state's game politics for the same reason gun owners dominate the nation's gun politics: intensity. Because so many hunters are single-issue voters, the state's politicians truckle to them, even when what they want is not in the best interests of the state as a whole.
What the state's hunters want most intensely is more big meat animals: moose, caribou and, to a lesser extent, sheep. With more big meat animals, urban hunters won't have their chances to hunt cut by subsistence preferences, and rural hunters won't have to compete with urban and Outside hunters. And nobody will have to hunt as hard.
The buzzword for this is "abundance," and the route to abundance is "intensive management." But in the unpredictable world of nature, the board can't manage the weather or food supplies or disease. All it can manage is hunting by people or predators.
Guess who loses out?
It's not always wolves. In the area around McGrath, for example, state wildlife managers have been tranquilizing bears and relocating them. This sounds benign, until you begin to wonder where the bears are being sent. Any decent bear habitat will already have bears in it, and bears are notoriously territorial. So how many of these relocations result in bear deaths?
Wolves resist handling that looks good in press releases. They are elusive and numerous, which makes relocation too difficult and expensive. With shrinking state budgets, it's much cheaper to let civilians tear around the skies killing them from airplanes, while they pay for their own gas and shells. And the blood, conveniently, is on somebody else's hands.
But anybody can play politics, including the howlers and their allies. Which, considering the threat a boycott poses to the state's $1 billion-plus tourism industry, could mean that it will be awhile before Alaska's hunters are flying the unfriendly skies.
Mike Doogan's opinion column appears each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at 257-4350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670