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Impossible Standard

Close: Alaskans for Wildlife vows another try for signatures.

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / January 13, 2006

Maybe it would be nice if a petition that would limit aerial predator control only to situations involving a scientifically proven and irrefutable definition of "biological emergency" came to be law. And it might be nice if we could just send state-employed, certified and trained employees to do the aerial gunning under strict controls.

It could all be very clinical, and we could eliminate so much strife. Predator control could come down to a black-and-white choice. No more lengthy debate.

But it can't be that way, it doesn't need to be that way, and setting impossible, politically based standards for wildlife management could do more harm than good for Alaska's wildlife.

A group called Alaskans For Wildlife (hinting that some of us must be against wildlife) has until Monday to show whether it has enough signatures to put a question on the November 2006 ballot that would ask voters if the state should use predator control only under the conditions mentioned above.

Leadership of the group is comprised of Alaskans who are hunters, some with guiding experience, who have made careers of writing, researching, litigating over and photographing Alaska's wilderness and wildlife. A chosen few are afforded the chance to earn a living that way. It isn't easy, and they are a respectable bunch.

But on this score we can not agree they are doing what is best for Alaska's hunters and its wildlife.

Those who pray their hunting odds will be good when they finally can set aside the time and can afford an air-taxi ride to some remote hunting area should be the most concerned about this initiative effort. It is those who con only find time to hunt somewhere near the road systems on a weekend or after work who should be most concerned. It is those in rural Alaska with limited travel options who should be most concerned. It is most of us, who squeeze in outdoor activities between other priorities, who really need to be concerned.

And it is those of us who are concerned about the future of hunting as it becomes more and more expensive and more and more a sport only for the elite, who need to be most concerned about attempts to set idillic, but impossible wildlife management standards.

The proposed ballot language insists that game populations drop to nearly unrecoverable population status, documented with plenty of expensive study, before the state is allowed to pay its employees to spend their time shooting predators from low, slow-flying aircraft at great personal risk and risk of losing aircraft. It is indeed an expensive plan--fraught with opportunities for litigation--and a plan that would need to be paid for by hunters who purchase licenses and tags to go hunting.

And so comes the catch. License and tag fees are needed to pay for the control programs, but who will be buying licenses and tags to hunt long-depleted game populations on the brink of disappearance? Only the wealthiest hunters would be able to continue to afford access to plentiful game in the most remote areas.

In this scenario attorneys win and scientists get job security. Writers and photographs who make a living outdoors have the same opportunities. But those who just want a moose for the freezer and an annual taste of a little bit of wilderness simply lose.

It would be nice if decisions regarding predator control were black-and-white and scientifically irrefutable, but they are not. Nature does indeed run wild.

Fish and Game needs to track wildlife trends, and the organization needs hunting license revenues to carry out its management responsibilities. The future of healthy wildlife populations is directly tied to the future of a healthy and plentiful population of hunters of all ages and all walks of life.

People who live and hunt in places like the eastern Interior and the Nelchina basin who see dozens of wolves and bears where they used to hunt caribou and moose know when they're spending more time and money at the local supermarket. Fish and Game has surveys and studies to back up their observations. There are private pilots and hunters who have the skills and want the chance to try to take a wolf or a bear from the air to help remedy the situation--at their own cost and own risk.

It's not always strictly scientific and absolutely controlled. But it is scientifically based and it is controlled by the state. Alaskans can be smart, thrifty and careful while looking out for their own interests, because all of us are "for" wildlife--and we all should be against plans to create state laws that set impossible standards.


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