Wolf Song of Alaska News

Don't Skimp on Funding Where Predator Control is Concerned

Pat Valkenburg / Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 20, 2006

Alaskans who favor intensive management of some moose populations to provide meat for local consumption are probably feeling pretty good right now.

The current administration is the first since the days of Jay Hammond to clearly support intensive management, and the Board of Game has implemented some form of it in five areas composing about 6 percent of the state.

It is likely that some of these management experiments won't work well and that others could work very well.

Besides the ongoing philosophical and political debate about predator management both within and outside Alaska, there is also an important professional debate.

Many biologists (especially outside Alaska) don't support intensive management because they believe that factors other than predation will prevent harvest goals from being achieved.
Some of these arguments are justified because information is lacking, but many are based on philosophical bias. Regardless, whenever controversial experiments in predator control are involved, the standards of evidence are very high.

Fish and Game has faced this problem for over 25 years. Despite clear evidence as far back as the early 1980s that predation by bears and wolves plays a major role in limiting moose numbers and harvest, it is only recently that a majority of biologists now agree with those conclusions. It took years of hard work and well-designed studies to convince this majority. The intensive management experiments being implemented now by the Board of Game and the Fish and Game include many new ideas. Unless there is adequate funding to design, implement and evaluate these ideas over the next 5-10 years, professional support will deteriorate.

At present, the Division of Wildlife Conservation simply does not have the funds to do a good job of implementing and evaluating the new predator management programs, and the result will be that when they are over, we won't have a clear picture of why some worked and others didn't. The current research program has about half the biologists and funding that was available 15-20 years ago.

For example, in the Fairbanks office, where much of the predator/prey research has occurred, 15 years ago there were 11 research biologists, four technicians and three graduate students working on about 10 major research projects on big game and/or large predators.

In 2005, there were six biologists, one technician and no graduate students working on four major research projects and a few minor ones. In addition, the DWC formerly had an effective apprenticeship program to train younger biologists.

Today it is almost nonexistent. The kind of training and experience biologists need to manage large predators and their prey is not available outside Alaska or from universities.

The most effective way to ensure that predator management becomes a thing of the past would be to lobby for less money for the Division of Wildlife Conservation today. Ironically, it appears that some of the most ardent supporters of predator management are doing just that because they disagree with how Fish and Game prioritizes existing funds. The legislature could address all this by providing the needed money in a long-term Capital Improvement Project specifically for predator management programs. Legislators have used this approach before and they should expand upon it.

Over the next five to 10 years, Fish and Game needs to spend at least $5 million to $10 million in operating money alone to adequately fund experiments in, and research on, predator management. In view of the potential returns, that's a small amount of money and a very good investment that will be paying back benefits for years to come.

Pat Valkenburg is a Certified Wildlife Biologist with over 25 years experience with ADF&G. He retired from his position as Research Coordinator in Fairbanks in 2002.

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