The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s No Action decision regarding wolf control on Unimak Island.
According to ADF&G, the Unimak Caribou herd is in jeopardy because of low calf recruitment and a low bull-to-cow ratio. Its solution is to spend a lot of money to kill wolves, though caribou herd numbers routinely fluctuate, particularly in island populations. USF&W states that the UCH “has fluctuated considerably over the last century, from a high of 7,000 in 1925 to near-zero in the 1950s.”
In the mid 1970s, the herd declined to a level even lower than it is now; it recovered naturally.
Wolves do not routinely take healthy bull caribou. Trophy hunters do. From 2002 through 2009, the UCH declined from approximately 1,261 to the current low of 400. ADF&G did not stop caribou hunting on Unimak until 2009.
Since 2000, 12 caribou were harvested by locals; at least 90 were killed by guided nonresidents.
In 2008, trophy hunters killed 75 percent of the mature bulls. One commercial operator has been landing in the refuge wilderness for the last seven years. He could pick locations, number of camps, and put camps in the middle of calving grounds or UCH critical habitat zones.
There are approximately 400 brown bears on Unimak, equal to the number of caribou, but ADF&G, disregarding that bears, too, eat caribou, reserves bears for trophy hunters.
Residents of False Pass, Unimak’s only community, hunt most of their caribou not on Unimak, but on the less challenging terrain of the Alaska mainland. Their diets consist mainly of seafood. Of the 95,000 responses to USF&W’s Environmental Assessment, one was submitted by a False Pass resident. He recommended No Action.
Unimak Island is the only island in the Aleutians with naturally occurring populations of caribou, brown bears, and wolves. It is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge; approximately 93 percent of the island is Congressionally designated wilderness. The Wilderness Act defines a wilderness as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man. USF&W is mandated to protect and manage wilderness so as to preserve its natural conditions... with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”
USF&W made the right call with No Action. The only valid disappointment is the way ADF&G has been “managing” our wildlife.
• Brown is a Juneau resident and serves as president of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Southeast Chapter.