©Wolf Song of Alaska

Wolf Wars About More Than Wolves


Paul Jenkins / Voice of the Times / December 5, 2003


First, let me say for the record that I have nothing against wolves. Nothing. I like wolves, although admittedly I wouldn't want my schnauzer to marry one. In fact - and I usually don't share this until about drink No. 6 - in a past life, I was a wolf, a dark, cranky German wolf with a taste for BMWs and blonde babes hauling Heinekens to their grandma's house. I think I may have come to a bad end. But I digress.

Wolves, or rather the sensible thinning of wolf numbers in a 2,200-square-mile area near McGrath, are making headlines again, and animal wackos have their undies in a bunch. They promise, as usual, to boycott Alaska tourism if the program is not shelved - hurting, in their zealotry, those who had no part in the decision to reduce the wolf population.

What triggered this most recent round in the endless bout over predator control in Alaska? Folks in McGrath say they harvest up to 90 moose a year in Game Management Unit 19D, but need more. The state just coughed up more than $100,000 to remove 78 black bears and nine brown bears from the area (without much in the way of protests, you may note), and planned to allow three aerial permit holders to shoot about 40 wolves in the area as the predator control program's second step.

Opponents claimed over-hunting is the problem; that moose numbers have improved because the bears were taken for a ride. They asked Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason to rule that the Board of Game did not follow the law in instituting predator control, and they want her to block the much-needed second step.

No matter her ruling this week, the Wolf Wars will rage on. At their very core are power and money.

Let's concede this point to the wackos: Alaska would not be Alaska without wolves, and bears and crazies, oh my. Nobody in their right mind wants to whack all 7,500 to 9,000 to 11,000 of them roaming the state. (The wolves, that is, not the bears and crazies. We can talk about them later.) Despite a propaganda campaign that would leave Joseph Goebbels chuckling, nobody is proposing wholesale butchery of the wolf population. From the start, it was planned that the McGrath hunt would involve only 0.38 percent of the state's land and target, at most, about 0.53 percent of its wolves.

It is easy to understand the wackos' fascination with wolves. Porcupines, pikas and garden slugs do not fire the imagination, much less fatten bank accounts. When you need something sexy to wring your hands about, to help milk the hapless rubes, to tap those fat checkbooks in New Hampshire, Connecticut and other points south and east, well, wolves fill the bill nicely.

For many who rarely encounter wolves while motoring over the river and through the woods, the predators are magic; the wild's primal, dark essence, its blood-chilling soul, effortlessly, silently, seamlessly gliding as rapacious sharks through the falling shadows in an eternal hunt. In their view, without wolves, without the promise of them forever, Denali might as well be Detroit.

In that, they may be right, but others more grounded in reality see wolves for what they are Ð opportunistic killers whose numbers can get out of hand.

"I wonder how many activists have ever seen a real wolf?" John Jameson of Ambler asks in a recent letter. "They should go to Buckland right now and you can see them across the river, hunkered down waiting for darkness. They come across and eat the puppies and any dogs they catch. . . . A day will come when the wolves get an Eagle River kid going to school Ð you just wait and see if it doesn't happen."

We can only hope he is wrong, but if not, you can bet some would fight wolf culling in Eagle River Valley, saying the critters have the right to eat children. Read "Little Red Riding Hood," they'd say. And wolves were, after all, here first.

There is nothing wrong with the predator control program slated for the McGrath area, but if the judge shuts down the effort today because of procedural problems, its outcome will forever be in doubt.

That's been the wackos' aim all along, I suspect - to never actually find out. What would happen if predator control increased hunting opportunities near McGrath and wolf numbers rebounded because more prey was available? What could they say then? The possibility of such a success must be their worst nightmare. It would reduce their power to tell us how to live. But more importantly, it would put an end to the sound they so dearly love. No, no, no, not the howl of the wolf.

It's more like the Kacheeng! of a cash register.


Paul Jenkins is an editor of The Anchorage Times

 


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