How did the politics of Alaska wildlife get so divisive?
days we've got legislators on opposite sides of the philosophical
divide trying to dictate that:
The best use of all Alaska big-game animals should be food.
The Board of Game should be restructured to give a larger
say to "nonconsumptive" wildlife users, i.e. animal
the entire process been taken over by extremists on opposite
ends of the debate who share only one thing, a fundamental
lack of understanding about Arctic and subarctic ecosystems?
group wants a moose behind every willow bush.
other wants wolves so plentiful as to make wolf viewing an
easy and marketable activity.
is feasible, let alone realistic.
is a far northern landscape. A short growing season restricts
the diversity and productivity of plant life, limiting the
number of herbivores it can support. The small number of prey
species -- even counting Alaska's caribou herds, which look
large because they cluster -- dictate that there will be food
for only a limited number of predators.
can manipulate this environment. Nonconsumptive users who
think nature operates in some sort of sensible balance, are
simply wrong. Look no further than Anchorage. The city is
overrun with moose for one simple reason: It's a predator-free
vehicles kill plenty of moose here every year, but they do
not kill anywhere near as many as wild predators take. Still,
you may have noticed you can't count on finding a moose in
Anchorage anytime you want. Visiting tourist friends might
drive around town for days and not spot a moose.
is worth noting that if we decided Anchorage moose should
be consumed, we wouldn't feed many people.
we wanted to kill all 1,000 or so in one big bloodletting
-- after which no one would ever see a moose in Anchorage
again -- we might be able to remove 200 moose a year from
this population. But cars already get more than 100. So the
number of moose that hunters could shoot would be fewer than
like to shoot an Anchorage moose. I like moose meat, and the
doggone critters are always getting up on my deck to eat our
willows. It would be easy and convenient to dump a winter
supply of meat right there outside the door. It's an Alaska
village resident's fantasy.
I'm not sure it's the highest and best use of Anchorage's
moose. I actually think it might be better if instead of using
Anchorage moose to feed people -- the roadkills go to charity
-- we started using Anchorage moose to feed wolves.
truly sympathetic with all those nonconsumptive users who
want to see a wolf. That's tough to do in Alaska, and we could
make it easier. We could create wolf-viewing areas by picking
a place to dump the carcasses of moose killed on Anchorage
roads or by wildlife officials.
I know, there are those who might find this sort of animal
feeding distasteful, but people feed wild birds all the time
just to get the chance to see them and think that's wonderful.
other states feed elk or deer to help them through the winter.
wrong with helping wolves get an easy meal while making it
easier for people to see them? It wouldn't be difficult to
condition a group to become "the most viewed wolf pack
bunch of people favor this idea. They've argued that having
a habituated pack of wolves -- a pack tolerant of people --
around Denali National Park is good. It makes the wolves easier
not stop there. Let's go all the way. Let's make these wolves
as viewable as the Dall sheep along the Seward Highway south
of Anchorage. Creating wildlife viewing opportunities is something
that man can do.
creating a bounty of moose is simply impossible.
if we killed every wild predator in Alaska -- and there now
seem to be people who want to declare war on wolves and bears
(can coyotes and wolverines be far behind?) -- we still couldn't
hope to produce the number of moose Alaskans would like to
passed that stage in human evolution more than 100 years ago.
Those were the days when Alaska's first people lived off the
land, and it should be noted that the population of people
who lived off the bounty of the sea vastly outnumbered those
trying to subsist on big game. The latter numbered in the
we number in the hundreds of thousands. Even those people
who can trace all or parts of their family tree back to the
first known Alaskans outnumber the harvestable quantity of
moose meat by several orders of magnitude.
like to believe most Alaskans understand this at some level.
I'd like to believe that most Alaskans support a wildlife
management system that tries to sustain relatively high populations
of all wild species while recognizing the limits of the land
in which we live and the compromises that must be made. I'd
like to believe that most Alaskans support a system of wildlife
management that does its best to preserve the important cultural
opportunities to hunt while recognizing that to preserve wildlife
we must ensure that most Alaska hunters come home with an
experience instead of a kill. And I'd like to believe that
most Alaskans, like me, recognize there's a value to seeing
wildlife that goes beyond shooting it.
I'd like to dump 800 pounds of moose meat on my deck with
the old .30-06, but not if it meant I'd never get to see another
moose eating the willows there. I like to see moose on a regular
basis even more than I like to eat moose.
think that applies to most of us.
these days it's hard to tell. The screeching of extremists
tends to drown out the opinions of ordinary, everyday Alaskans.
Editor Craig Medred is an opinion columnist. Reach him at