Last week you may have encountered two individuals standing outside Safeway bravely withstanding the Kodiak weather. Did you take the time to stop and engage in an informal "Hello?" Did you take a moment to question what they were doing there hour after hour, or question what cause they were adamantly representing? I couldn't help myself and stopped.
Upon entering the grocery store, I was promptly greeted with a smile by two representatives from the group Alaskans for Wildlife. The message on a cardboard sign read, "Stop aerial shooting of wildlife."
During our introduction, they told me they are biologists with the State of Alaska visiting the Kodiak area from Anchorage for a brief period to educate Kodiak residents about the current issue of large game control in the Interior. They immediately asked me to sign a petition to stop aerial shooting of wolves and bears in Alaska. The signatures, of which more than 500 individuals in the community of Kodiak provided, go toward a ballot measure to allow actions to be taken by the Department of Fish and Game to "effectively manage" the populations of wolves and bears in Interior Alaska.
The ballot was denied due to an insufficient number of signatures. (They needed 32,000 but received only 31,000.)
The initial phrase, "Stop aerial shooting of wildlife," may be a bit deceiving. This approach to steal the headlines by wildlife interest groups has the potential to misrepresent the regulations being proposed. In fact the regulations being proposed do not necessarily rule out termination by means of aircraft. The ballot measure would prohibit the use of aircraft to terminate wolves or bears, except for ADF&G in the case of biological emergency.
What right do I and the citizens of Kodiak, an island removed from Mainland Alaska, have to make decisions for the communities to the north and west? What right do the citizens of the Lower 48 have to voice an opinion? Should the residents of the Interior directly affected by this controversy have the final say as to what type of control happens in their area? Will the original inhabitants who shaped the state of Alaska to its grander, be heard and continually live out their lives year after year while being shaped to fit our society's tolerant attitudes? There are as many questions as there are answers.
Determining if bear and wolf populations in the selected areas and sub-areas are causing a dramatic decline in the prey animals is subjective. The information is somewhat politically based on both ends of the spectrum. The human impact of large-game hunting and game control reaches into the remote regions of this state.
What is missing in this battle are the soldiers on the battlefield. Testimonies directly from the residents in the proposed areas are few and far between, possibly due to lack of human presence in a few of the proposed areas.
Could the changing weather patterns or other natural causes be a determining factor related to the dramatic fluctuations in game populations? Do humans and our increasing numbers throughout the state and into the remote regions encroach on the wolf and bear habitat, turning the competition for food into a struggle for survival for us both?
It is estimated 400 wolves (and, as yet, an undecided amount of bears) are scheduled for termination with privately owned and leased aircraft during the winter months.
Is the reason for more interaction between these predator/prey animals and humans due to community sprawl? People are traveling into the depths of the woods more as the years pass in search of food, homesteads, recreation or an opportunity to take a snapshot of wildlife. Wildlife roam blind to the strong human influence we subject them to, shaping their lives irreparably and irreversibly.
There are well-known individuals within our community who run guiding services to Interior Alaska. Therefore they are impacted by this political battle taking place hundreds of miles to the north of Kodiak. This political and sometimes personal struggle - wildlife versus humans - does have deeply rooted ties to this community after all. The visitation of an Outside environmental organization and their efforts to try to educate our community leave a footprint.
The Alaskans for Wildlife's countless hours dedicated to the cause at hand will hopefully be respected and understood for what it is worth. They, after all, are working toward a commonplace goal that all Alaskans share - a love for the wildlife we have chosen to live our lives around.
Tabitha Hughes has been a resident of Kodiak since January 2004. She has commercially fished and is a current student at Kodiak College working toward a degree in biology.