If State Starts Farming Moose Near McGrath, What's Next?

Mike Doogan / Comment / Anchorage Daily News / February 25, 2003


The state Department of Fish and Game wants to build a moose ranch near McGrath. The idea is to make a place where moose can grow to hunting size without the risk of being eaten by wolves and bears.

Why does the department want to do this?

Here's the explanation from its Web site: "The problem is that people need to harvest more moose than can be provided by the moose population in the McGrath area each year."

Unless I've missed the reports of famine in the McGrath area, that's not true. The problem is that people want more moose, not that they need more moose.

To provide for these wants, the department proposes to kill all the wolves in the 520 square miles it calls the Experimental Micro-Management Area, relocate all the bears and ban human hunting so that more moose calves will survive and moose numbers will increase. Later on, in a year or two, hunters will be able to kill them.

This is presented as a scientific experiment, but it's not. There's nothing to be tested here except the department's ability to eliminate predators. Once they are gone, weather and food being equal, more moose will follow as night follows day.

If this isn't a scientific experiment, why is it being done?

McGrath residents have been complaining about not getting all the moose they want for years now. The chief complainer has been Mike Fleagle, a member of the Board of Game. For the last half of the 1990s, Fleagle told anyone who would listen that the state needed to kill wolves because wolves were eating too many moose.

Turns out that, according to department studies, black bears eat more moose calves than wolves do and human hunters kill more adult moose than wolves do. It also turns out that there are more moose in the area than anybody thought. Just not enough so that every person in McGrath can get all the moose meat he wants.

Reasonable game managers would tell McGrath residents that manipulating nature to increase a single species is not sound science. But Alaska is not run by reasonable game managers. Instead, they are using McGrath as the test bed for their idea of turning the entire state into a game farm. If the program works, and survives the political controversy it is sure to cause, they will have an easier time doing the same thing in areas where urban whites hunt, like Nelchina.

And so on until the whole state becomes one big game farm. (Just where they'll send all the bears isn't too clear, but one problem at a time.)

Right now, there aren't enough big meat animals to go around. So some people don't get to hunt. But if there were more big meat animals, everybody would get to hunt and would have a much better chance to kill a big meat animal. That would make the hunters of Alaska happy, happy, happy.

Farming big meat animals also would solve piddling political problems, like the rural subsistence preference. If there's plenty for everybody, who needs a preference? And it fits in with the game management ideology, which is based on the agricultural model. Get rid of the pests, and the crops just grow and grow.

The only problem is that, here in Alaska, they don't. The weather changes and there's not enough food and game populations crash. But I suppose game managers could deal with that. Put in feeding stations. Or, better yet, just keep the moose and caribou on feed lots. That way, a hunter would know just where to go to be sure to kill one.

Not very sporting, I know. But once you embark on moose farming, you might as well go all the way.

Mike Doogan's opinion column appears each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. His telephone number is 907-257-4350, and his e-mail address is mdoogan@adn.com

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