I recently returned from the Board of Game meetings
in Fairbanks. A play unfolded, but this play began in 1900,
when Nome had 12,000 residents, Skagway had 2,012 and Juneau
had 1,456. The main occupation categories were hunters, guides,
trappers and scouts, and just over 1 percent of the population
worked in offices. The total population was 63,593, including
29,536 Alaska Natives.
back then, over-hunting and predator control were big issues.
Denali National Park was created primarily because hunters
were decimating sheep. Elsewhere, looking for ways to eke
more game from the harsh land, aerial hunting and poisoning
began in the 1940s and 1950s. Poisoning ended with statehood
in 1959, but aerial wolf control, including land-and-shoot,
continued until 1994. These widespread efforts essentially
turned parts of Alaska into moose and caribou feedlots.
Nature yielded only so far, and the temporary explosion of
game taxed habitat beyond what it could handle. Moose and
caribou populations peaked and then crashed. Predators were
blamed, and cries for control increased.
1998, Alaska's population grew to 621,400, with an Alaska
Native population of 103,287 -- only about 20 percent of the
entire population. Whites comprised about 74 percent, numbering
459,463, and were heavily concentrated in Anchorage (258,782),
Fairbanks (83,928), and Juneau (30,236).
poisoning ended at statehood, and when aerial wolf control
was banned in 1994, predator/prey populations began to return
to their natural balance.
under pressure from the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Legislature
passed SB 77, the Intensive Management Game Law. This law
mandates that when game numbers drop beyond what is desired
for human harvest, predators will be killed. However, now
human harvest desires included those of Alaska and international
in cahoots with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the
Board of Game took the historic, artificially high peak population
numbers created after decades of aerial wolf control and poisoning
and used those estimates to set population and harvest targets
for each Game Management Unit.
to a Board of Game made up of only hunters and trappers were
Constitution gives everyone equal access to game. Legislation
makes all Alaskans subsistence hunters. Urban hunters have
fought against a subsistence preference for rural Alaskans
for decades. Why? Polls have shown that the public may accept
predator control if done to meet true subsistence needs, so
urban residents, who are issued the vast majority of hunting
licenses, want to continue to hide behind the subsistence
label to maintain their favorite recreational activity unhindered
proof of over-hunting abounds. Fish and Game studies show
portions of 19D east have a bull/cow ratio of 6 per 100. A
November 2001 trend count conducted along the Holitna/Hoholitna
Rivers in 19A/B also verified bull/cow ratios of 6/100. In
Unit 21D, bull/cow ratios in 3-Day Slough are 15/100. At the
Nowitna River mouth, bull/cow ratios are 12/100, with two-thirds
of those bulls being yearlings. Fish and Game's goal is 30
bulls per 100 cows in a hunted population.
haven't hunters been managed?
this brings us to the final act of the play. Our radical governor,
Legislature, Department of Fish and Game and Board of Game
now have what they worked for. Areas eligible for predator
control based on artificially high moose harvest objectives
and the Intensive Game Management Law include GMU 9E, 9B,
9C, 12Z, 13A, 13B, 13C, 13D, 13E, 14A, 14B, 14C, 16A, 16B,
19A, 19B, 19C, 19D, 20A, 20B, 20C, 21D, 21E, 22A, 22B, 22C,
22D, 22E, 23Z, 24Z and 25D, or approximately 40 percent of
the state. And there are cries for more.
no mistake -- to meet hunters' goals, predator control will
continue forever. You want proof? In Unit 20A, with predators
decimated, the moose population now exceeds the carrying capacity
of the habitat. Did the Game Board limit the taking of predators
so nature can return balance? No. Now Fish and Game and the
Board of Game are actively promoting killing cows and calves
in Unit 20A and removed the statewide moose-calf hunting prohibition
during their last meeting.
Dorothy Keeler is a wildlife photographer and a 27-year