Alaska, moose and caribou are our livestock. ...
We are just trying to protect our livestock like any other
John Manly, Spokesman for Gov. Frank Murkowski
a decade has passed since Wally Hickel uttered his infamous
cry, "You just can't let nature run wild." Now we
get a governor, or at least his spokesman, who has decided
that Alaska's wildlife are really nothing more than livestock.
Well, not all wild critters; just some big-game animals that
residents prefer to eat. I'm kind of surprised John Manly
didn't include sheep. Or musk ox. I mean, we really do have
a musk ox farm, right out in Palmer. Maybe it's because they
don't inhabit the McGrath area, ground zero for Alaska's latest
think such a foolish utterance would make our state's administration
a laughingstock among reasonable, thoughtful people everywhere.
But I'd bet more than a few Alaskans nodded their heads in
agreement when they read or heard that quote.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. To link wildlife with
domesticated animals as Manly does is both arrogant and ridiculous.
But it explains a lot, mostly because it's so self-serving.
Manly's flippant comment attempts to rationalize why our governor,
his political appointees to the Board of Game, and most members
of the heavily conservative Alaska Legislature are so intent
on controlling -- i.e., killing -- wolves.
can we Alaskans keep electing leaders who are stuck in a time
warp; who represent the values of a century (or more) ago?
To them, moose and caribou (i.e., livestock) are good and
desirable, wolves are bad. Wolves are competitors, wolves
are vermin who steal food from humans. So we need to get rid
of 'em when we can. I get the feeling our state government
and Board of Game would organize wolf-killing programs all
over Alaska, if they could.
also suspect that a lot of these guys -- and they are mostly
guys -- consider bears to be vermin. But when bears get big
enough, they become trophy animals, attracting big-game hunters
to Alaska from around the world. They've also become big business
in the tourism industry. Because they (unlike wolves) bring
Alaska a lot of money, it's not quite so easy to order a predator-control
kill of bears, even if they're killing more moose calves than
wolves. But I digress.
idea of wildlife as livestock meshes pretty darn well with
another Hickel notion, that of the owner state. We Alaskans
own the caribou, the moose, the hills and valleys, the rivers
and lakes, and of course the wolves that many McGrath residents
want killed off. Being the owners, we can mess around with
things and Outsiders who don't like it can go to hell. Of
course, this owner-state stuff really applies only to state
land. Our neighbors in the Lower 49 also own a piece of Alaska's
federal lands, which is why our governor and Legislators can't
just do whatever they please wherever they please, thank goodness.
On state land, though, we can turn Alaska into one giant game
farm if we want. After we kill enough wolves and transplant
enough bears, maybe we can start some captive-breeding programs
to boost moose and caribou numbers. There ain't much difference
between caribou and reindeer herds, is there?
also fits well with another popular western, Judeo-Christian
concept: the idea that all of nature was created for human
benefit. Of course nature in its wildest forms isn't always
easy to use. So forests are cut down, the earth is mined,
animals are tamed. Even the possibility of moose and caribou
as livestock makes them seem more valuable to us humans, don't
you think? Wolves, on the other hand, seem hopelessly wild.
Yet, paradoxically, wolves behave much more like humans than
moose or caribou do. Maybe a little too much, for some folks.
Maybe that's the problem.
Sherwonit is a nature writer who lives in Anchorage.