Need Vs. Want?

Aerial Wolf Killing

Marty Huth / Director / Wolf Timbers / Bolivar, Ohio

As I sit and write this I am aware that at the same time, but at locations that are far removed from each other, an Alaskan Fish and Game official is tearing from his permit pad an authorization for a private citizen to take to the air. They will invite a buddy or two, load their shotguns with buckshot and have a wonderful afternoon in the glorious skies above one of our nations most scenic and treasured places - the Alaskan wilderness.

As they climb into their plane, they anticipate the fun that lay ahead of them, after just finishing a large meal at a local restaurant. The plane easily climbs into the sky, far above the depths of snow that lay below that would make it nearly impossible for anyone but the most physical on snowshoes to maneuver through.

On the ground below are numerous logs, blown over by swift winds or just out of decay. Rocks, boulders, snow and ice make the forward progress almost impossible and is measured by inches, not feet. Up in the sky, the plane travels effortlessly, consuming feet by seconds. Finally, their quarry is spotted below. A number of small, dark spots initially, in a single file line, lopping through the chest deep snow over logs and around boulders.

These hunters on the ground are in search of another source of food that hopefully will not escape them, again. It has been 6 days since this group of hunters had any food of measurable amount. They have traveled 8 miles this day, on foot. Their two previous attempts to feed their pups failed because their food sources were too strong for this pack of wolves, numbered 7, to bring down successfully.

The lead wolf pauses, almost drowning in the snow. A rest is welcome by all of the wolves, weary from traveling 8 hours straight and putting 20 miles on their odometer. Suddenly, the alpha pair becomes anxious, nervous - their hearing alerts them to danger - not danger from a natural source, but of an alien source. In a panic, the alpha wolves try to instruct the pups and younger adults in an escape route - through chest high snow, over boulders, rocks and icy ground where the wind has made an impromptu sledding area.

The pups and young adults are confused at the noise and the actions of their elders - whom they trust and look up to for guidance, security and safety. As the noise reaches a deafening roar, the alpha pair bolts through the almost impassable snow, trying to reach the tree line a mile ahead - which under normal conditions would take the pack an hour to span. The snow consumes the wolves and swallows the 7-member family as if it were stuck in a horrible nightmare, preventing any notable movement in any direction - as if being tied to a tether. Suddenly, the young female wolf pup looks up and sees a black and silver object coming right at her. As she tries to run, bullets rip through her and shred all wildness from her.

The rest of the pack is not as hard to kill as the initial she-wolf. The other members of this family are chased to exhaustion and collapse on the great Alaskan wilderness where they are pumped full of searing hot metal balls. The pilots of the Alaskan Fish and Game Department sponsored wolf kill (predator control), try to find a spot to land but are not able to locate a suitable landing strip.

Hours later, the she-wolf pup lifts her head to try to find her parents to help her, but although she can see her mom and dad, they do not respond to her whimpers. Only then does she sigh a final sigh and rests her young head on the snow. Her suffering is now no more. The beautiful Alaskan landscape is now a mixture of white and red, as if some horrific massacre has occurred.

Why? Why in a world as modern as ours, particularly in this country, must the above scenario become not fiction but a reality? I can assure you, that these and other similar events will occur across two and possibly more game management units in Alaska.

A November 4, 2003 press release by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announced that wolves in two Game Management Units (GMU's) would be reduced. These two GMU's include the area around McGrath, GMU 19D East and Nelchina, GMU 13. The method that the wolves will be killed include shooting the wolves from the air, and in areas where the bush is too dense, pilots will have to land their planes and shoot the wolves from the ground.

According to the ADF&G, the rational for killing the wolves is to increase moose numbers so that there are more moose for human hunters. Residents of the McGrath area reportedly need 130 to 150 moose per year to meet their food requirements. Recently, they took 75. In the Glennallen area, hunters used to kill more than 1,000 moose. They now kill less than half that many.

On the surface, this action by the ADF&G seems basic and simple. However, if one immerses oneself into the facts and figures of the issue, it becomes a quagmire. Since Wolf Timbers supports wolf recovery and we seek to provide education on wolves and protection of the habitat for sustaining not only the health of wolves, but also of their prey, we also have a duty to present the wolf in an unbiased and accurate way. That duty extends to public support of or providing opposition to those decisions that affect in an adverse way, either directly or indirectly, the wolf. We also must understand the reasons why those that oppose our viewpoints do so, and attempt to understand their point of view.

The question at hand is this - do the residents of GMU 13 and 19 "need" the moose to survive or is this more a question of "want". If the answer were "need", then I would be the first to support any measure that prevents human suffering and the predator control program would become valid - because it would not be just another reason to shoot wolves. If the answer is "want", then there is no excuse for the wolf predator control program sponsored by the ADF&G. I have to admit, that answering this question is more difficult than it appears.

My attempt at discerning the truth about the Alaskan wolf kill started out with a call to the governor of Alaska, Governor Murkowski. When I called the governor's office and asked to speak to the governor, all I could hear on the other end was laughter. I then admitted to the person that answered the phone that this would probably not be a possibility, she said "no". After discussing the issue with her for a while, she gave me the phone number to the ADF&G. I had a number of questions for the state to answer, however, all that I could obtain from the ADF&G and the governor's office was that "that information is on our web site."

After visiting the state of Alaska's web site and spending hours on-line, I came away with very few of my questions being answered. In any conflict, you have opposing sides. Each side puts out "selective information" which is designed to sway support in their way. What one needs to do is to look at all the facts and report on those facts without bias. Therefore, let's look at the known facts that surround the basic question of need vs. want. We must be careful however, and realize that these facts often times come from either a supporter or an opposition of the cause. Since Wolf Timbers is by nature, pro-wolf, our disclaimer here is that we are opposed to the predator control program until sufficient information reveals itself that would make us rationally and intelligently change our minds.

"Need" is classified as a basic requirement to sustain life. Shelter, food, water are our basic needs -sustenance (subsistence). "Want" is classified as any other substance or desire not required to sustain life. In this case, since the ADF&G stated in their press release that the reason for the wolf kill was to increase moose numbers since moose are "necessary sources of food for people" we can classify, at least initially, these hunters as "subsistence hunters". When I spoke with the governor's office and the ADF&G office, I attempted to obtain their definition of a subsistence hunter. I was told I would have to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since subsistence hunting follows federal guidelines and is under the umbrella of the federal government. If the sole reason for the wolf kill were to increase moose numbers for human subsistence hunting, I would think that the ADF&G would be able to give me such a definition. While it is true that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Interior Department, is the overseer of subsistence hunting, when I called the Alaska office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was told that although subsistence hunting is protected by the federal government, jurisdiction is limited to federal property (National Parks, Wildlife refuges, etc.). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have no jurisdiction over state or private land where subsistence hunting is concerned. One interesting note to the subsistence hunting issue is that all hunters in Alaska are considered subsistence hunters. Therefore, the argument that the killing of wolves to increase moose numbers for the subsistence hunter in Alaska is a play on words.

I then contacted Ms. Cathie Harms, from the ADF&G. Ms. Harms is the McGrath area information spokesperson for the ADF&G GMU#19. Ms. Harms was pleasant to talk with and did her best to defend the reason that wolves are to be killed in and around the McGrath area. As she explained it, Alaska has a total landmass of 586, 421 square miles while in comparison; Ohio has 44, 828 square miles. GMU# 19 in total is 36, 486 square miles. GMU# 19 is broken down further into units and subdivisions. GMU# 19D is 12,044 square miles while GMU#19D East is 8,500 square miles. The control area is 1,700 square miles while the core predator control area is 530 square miles. There are no roads into the McGrath area; all humans enter the area via snowmobile, snowshoe or plane. There are no large national food chain stores in the area. A pound of meat typically costs $10.00. As we all know, diets are typically dependant upon the area in which one lives. The residents of the McGrath area, which number around 550 people and include smaller villages, have been brought up on a diet of mostly wild meat. If they were to change their diet to one of pork or beef, there is the potential for severe gastrointestinal tract issues. As Ms. Harms told me that when health issues are a concern, a physician may limit the amount of red meat to around 3 oz./week. In the case of the residents of McGrath, physicians tell their patients that they may eat all the moose they can since moose are low in fat/cholesterol. She did go on to say that they could airlift in food but that would be both financially difficult and have an adverse impact on the dietary needs and customs of the local residents.

According to Ms. Harms, in Alaska, "there are no roads in the Bush, just rivers and a few trails. Changing a hunt area to an area a few miles away requires overland bushwhacking and usually doesn't happen. People in the Bush are directly tied to the land. Hunting isn't something you choose to do; it is one of the things that life cycles around. The majority of residents of villages are Alaska Natives whose very existence has depended on harvesting wildlife. People are part of the ecosystems; they are predators and actively compete with other predators. The idea of not hunting is foreign and hard to understand by local people in villages. Because the rest of the country has become urbanized and does not "need" to hunt has not changed the lives of these people, who still "need" to hunt, in part to provide for their families as their parents, grand parents and ancestors have over the past centuries, and in part to maintain their lives and culture."

Besides moose, people in the McGrath area also rely on salmon. For an unknown reason, there has been a dramatic decrease in the numbers of salmon over the past years as well. Currently, there are no studies underway to determine why the salmon numbers have been decreasing. I asked Ms. Harms if she knew how many moose taken in the McGrath area had been by out of state big game hunters. She replied that the area is closed to out of state hunting. She stated that the wolf kill is designed to create a "predator free zone" around the McGrath area that would be small on predator control scale and benefit a small number of humans. According to the ADF&G, 40 to 50 wolves will be killed in the McGrath area (in one year). Ms. Harms also educated me on the subsistence hunting issue. Here in Ohio, to hunt white-tailed deer, you first need a regular hunting license then you must purchase a deer permit. You are only permitted to take as many deer as you have permits, up to 6 deer (considering urban hunting). Subsistence hunters, according to Ms. Harms, need to purchase a hunting license yet they are permitted to take as many moose as they can. The system basically works like this - a hunter shoots a moose and is required by the village elders to deposit that moose in the community food bank so to speak. That hunter may then again, go out and kill another moose and so on and so forth. In actuality, no one but the individual hunter knows how many moose a hunter has killed. In this day and age, it is unfortunate for the ADF&G to institute a predator control program without conducting any substantial studies on the matter. To regulate wolf numbers as an excuse to increase moose numbers without regulating the human harvest of moose is unfounded.

Ms. Harms said that "subsistence hunting" is an attractive word and was unable to define it for me. She said that in all her life in Alaska, she has only met one person that hunted just for the antlers. She stated that around 10 years ago, the residents of that area provided information to the ADF&G that they are not killing enough moose. I was concerned that the residents of the McGrath area were not obtaining enough food to eat but I was assured by Ms. Harms that this was not the case, that the Federal government and the Alaskan government would not permit people to starve.

The area in question that will be converted to a predator free zone encompasses an estimated 1,700 square miles. Ms. Harms states that the primary predator control area (EMMA - experimental micro-management area) is 530 square miles but in order to prevent neighboring packs to claim the territory that was vacated by the killed wolves, a larger area must be involved in the wolf kill. According to Ms. Harms, the total number of moose in all of GMU #19 D east is 2,700 while within the EMMA is 530. The total number of permits issued for the McGrath area this past year was 257. Out of those 257, 75 took Bull Moose (only bulls are legal game). There are approximately 45 - 65 wolves in the control area. There are no current studies that look at the health of the moose that are successfully preyed on by wolves (predators) or the ratio of bulls to cows in the control area. Additionally, I was unable to obtain the number of hunters, on a yearly average, for the past 10 years in the McGrath area. If you have fewer hunters, you will usually kill fewer moose. Additionally, since the ADF&G has not conducted any studies on the health of the moose in the area, it is possible that by removing wolves, an increase in moose numbers might not be noticeable.

I attempted to obtain more information from Ms. Harms in an e-mail to her on November 26, 2003. As of today's date, December 19, 2003, I have not received a reply from her. I am sure she is very busy. In my e-mail to her, I questioned if the ADF&G has any information on the ratio to bulls/cows in the predator control area. This figure alone might increase or decrease the success rate for human hunters in the area. Since the taking of cows is prohibited. In the Glennallen area, GMU # 13, which is located between Fairbanks and Anchorage, and is known as the Nelchina basin, which borders Denali National Park on one side and is surrounded by roads on all sides, the situation is different. I spoke with Mr. Bruce Bartley, the Glennallen area information spokesperson for the ADF&G. Mr. Bartley informed me that the predator control plan is to take around 130 wolves in the area. Mr. Bartley informed me that only residents of Alaska are permitted to take moose in both GMU 13 and 19. The ADF&G has also recently restricted further the definition of a "legal" moose. In order to be considered a legal bull (cows are not permitted to be killed in either GMU's), the bull must have either a spike on one side of its antler and another spike or possibly two points on the other side or have an estimated antler spread size of 50" or greater. The rational behind this is that the younger and older moose are those that would historically be the first to fall to predation.

Mr. Bartley informed me that bears kill close to 60% of moose calves and therefore, an increase in bear hunting has been encouraged as well as relocation of some bears out of the area. Bears are most active at preying on moose calves from June to July. It is at this time that wolves are raising their pups and generally hunt in singles or in pairs rather than the entire pack. Therefore, wolves are less successful at bringing down moose. Beginning around the first of October through November, bears begin hibernating and it is at this time that wolves play a more active role in preying on moose. They also are generally more successful at bringing down moose because the whole pack is now involved in hunting.

The reason for the wolf predator control program is to increase moose numbers for human hunters. In the Glennallen area, as previously mentioned, human hunters used to kill around 1,000 moose. In 2001/2002, the total number of reported moose killed by human hunters is 430. When I asked Mr. Bartley what the total number of human hunters was in the mid 1990's, he stated there were an approximate 6,000 human hunters (when they killed on average 1,000 moose). The moose population since then has decreased, according to Mr. Bartley. Total human hunters for the fall 2002 moose season were estimated at 2,800 hunters. These 2,800 hunters took a reported 430 moose. It is obvious that if you have fewer hunters in a given area, they will generally kill less moose.

Perhaps more troubling than the actual wolf kill is the way in which Governor Murkowski and the ADF&G went about validating the wolf kill. I am sure most of you will remember the boycott of Alaska, which occurred in 1995. The governor at that time was Tony Knowles. Governor Knowles suspended the proposed statewide snaring program on wolves due to public outcry. In 1996, voters in Alaska voted to ban Same-day, Land and Shot Hunting of wolves. In 2000, voters again, by referendum, passed a resolution to ban Same-day, Land and Shot Hunting of wolves. This was after the state legislature reversed the 1996 ban. The 1996 ban passed with nearly 60% of the vote. Besides repealing the regulation authorizing any private citizen with a $15 trapping or $25 hunting license to kill wolves, the ban also included an initiative that prohibited the state from using aircraft in government wolf control programs except in case of a biological emergency.

Opinions vary drastically on this issue and some pro-wolf supporters voice the opinion that it is the hunters that need controlled while others that are pro-predator control voice the opinion that "outsiders" (non-Alaskans) should stay out of Alaska's business and let the biologists recommend what needs to be done. Unfortunately, while I respect the viewpoint of the residents of Alaska, when an issue as controversial as predator control to increase human hunter take is on the surface, it becomes a national issue. One must also recognize that the state biologists are not an independent organization of the governor's office and will usually reflect the policy of the administration.

While a boycott of Alaska will potentially harm peripheral business, it will not affect the Hunting industry since according to the ADF&G, no non-residential hunting of moose is permitted in the two GMU's. However, a boycott is probably the best method that can be used to inform the Alaskan government that although the wolves and moose are in their state, all citizens of The United States have an interest in this issue and in preventing the cruel suffering of wolves in the disguise of subsistence hunting. In a 2001 National Survey on Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife associated recreation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed 292,000 non-residential wildlife-watching participants to Alaska. According to the report, 221,000 residents of Alaska are also wildlife watchers while 93,000 residents of Alaska are hunters.

Is it ethical and moral, in the human sense of the word, to kill an animal for the end result of killing more of another animal? The predator control program has the potential to become a never-ending cycle and proliferate into other areas of the state. However, one must wonder why it took 10 years for the ADF&G to institute measures to kill wolves to boost moose population. I know of no other state that has instituted measures such as this. The ADF&G and others will tell you that wolves are killed in other states. While this is true, they are also protected, to one degree or another, and they are killed not to increase human killing of moose or to boost other "recreational big game animals" for the hunting public, they are killed because those offending wolves, for some reason, have preyed upon domestic animals (cows, sheep, etc.). We must also not forget that in the near future, in states in which the wolf population has rebounded to the point of becoming de-listed, management of the wolf will revert to the control of the state. In those areas, some form of wolf hunting will probably take place. Therefore, wolves in those states will be killed by "sportsmen" simply because they can kill a wolf. Unlike the situation in Alaska's predator control area, which is designed to increase moose numbers to increase human food consumption. However, is this kill program needed? >From all of the information put out by the ADF&G, the only thing that is certain is that the ADF&G and the governors' office and a number of "unsportsman" people just want to kill something. It apparently does not matter what that "something" is - as long as it can be killed, it should be killed.

I do not feel that the state of Alaska has exhausted all efforts to fully understand the issue and furthermore, the state needs to be proactive rather than reactive in managing its game. While I am sure that I shall receive contrary viewpoints to mine, human game managers need to manage game for human hunters based on what is available to the human, after all of the animals that (other than human) depend upon that prey or food source have had their needs met first. Only in a case of pure subsistence hunting and in a case of protection of an endangered species, would I contradict my statement above. It seems that the ADF&G and the state of Alaska have not looked far enough into the future when 10 years ago, it's residents were telling the ADF&G that they were not getting enough to eat. It seems to me that to be successful, one needs to plan for the future. Is it off base to say then, that the state of Alaska should have instituted a program designed to provide food for their peoples on a continuum? Perhaps design a program that would provide moose for the residents year round in the form of a "moose farm". If this is a case of providing food, then there can be no argument for the last statement. One never knows when a biological emergency would prevent the residents from obtaining wild game. Perhaps the real reason why the ADF&G has sponsored this program is to use the food issue as a cover to legally kill wolves from the air.

There seems to be no other "wildlife issue" more explosive than one that somehow involves wolves. It does not seem to matter what the issue, if it involves wolves, parties on either side will attempt to capitalize on the issue. The pro-wolf organizations typically will use an issue such as what is going to occur in Alaska as a means to encourage people to donate to their organization in the name of the wolf. While those opposed to wolves will attempt to rationalize their cause by stating an overabundance of wolves and a decreasing prey population.

The main point that I want you to take away from this article it that the ADF&G has not done enough studies to warrant the unsubstantiated, indiscriminate killing of a key player in maintaining the viability of moose and caribou. At some point in time in the near future, as our natural resources dwindle, we must develop and explore alternative food sources. We must utilize our brains now so that future generations will not be faced with critical food shortages. Continuing to rely upon, or using the excuse of "subsistence hunting" to kill wolves will eventually decrease wolf numbers and possibly mandate protection of wolves in Alaska.

One very troubling excuse the ADF&G is using in justifying the wolf kill is the use of the words "subsistence hunter". Until I researched this issue, I did not realize that any hunter in Alaska is considered a subsistence hunter. This means that a hunter living on a street in Anchorage next to the mall is just as much a subsistence hunter as is a person living in a village in McGrath. Where is the "subsistence"?

If the wolf kill were designed to recover the moose population from a critically low level, (i.e. endangered) for the sole benefit of the moose, I would have no problem with this issue. However, this is currently not the case.

This is an unfortunate case of "want" and we are obviously opposed to the predator control program.


[HOME] [Back to Current Events Menu]

Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670

© Copyright 2003
Wolf Song of Alaska.

The Wolf Song of Alaska
Logo, and Web Site Text is copyrighted, registered,
and protected, and cannot be used without permission.

Web design and artwork donated by She-Wolf Works and Alaskan artist Maria Talasz

All rights reserved