Alaska's big-game boss told members of the Board of Game on Friday that predator control programs are eating up big chunks of the Department of Fish and Game's wildlife budget and have forced wildlife biologists to focus on predators at the expense of other animals.
"We have to have very good information to sustain these projects," said Matt Robus, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation. "In order to get a program in effect and sustain it and defend it, we need to know what the predator-prey relationship is and what it's doing. We need to know how the control program is affecting bears and wolves. We need to know what happens after the program ends."
All of those things require studies, which in turn require money. In some cases, he told the seven-member board, the state has been borrowing money from other studies to pay for predator control work. One example is Interior moose surveys.
"Instead of flying a moose survey every two years, we're flying them every three or four years," he said. "We've pulled back on sheep and goat surveys.
"Our information for some populations isn't as up-to-date as we'd like it. We're doing less survey and inventory work than we feel we need to."
Robus' comments came on the first day of a 10-day meeting at the Princess Hotel, where the Game Board is meeting to consider 167 proposals for changes to Interior hunting and trapping regulations. Most of Friday's agenda was devoted to staff reports from biologists working on various projects.
Public testimony is expected to occupy most of today's meeting and continue into Sunday before the board begins deliberating on individual proposals. The sign-up deadline to testify at the meeting is 2 p.m. today.
Predator control tops the agenda. The board has initiated aerial wolf hunting in five parts of the state over the past three years and residents in others are requesting similar programs because of declining moose and caribou populations.
Aerial gunners have killed 100 wolves so far this winter, Robus said, putting the three-year total for the five programs at about 550 wolves
But without an increase in funding, the state will be hard-pressed to gather the information needed to justify predator control programs in other areas, Robus said.
The department's approximately $35 million budget consists mainly of federal funds the state gets through matching grants and from the sale of hunting and trapping licenses. But the sale of licenses has been steadily declining and the agency has gotten little relief from the Alaska Legislature, Robus said.
The department did get $640,000 in general fund money from the Legislature last year, but that money was invested in predator control studies, Robus said.
The department last year floated a plan to increase the cost of hunting and trapping licenses for residents and nonresidents to generate more revenue, but that idea was quickly shot down in the Legislature. The department didn't bother pushing the license increase again this year because it's an election year. Few legislators seeking office again would have voted for an increase, Robus said.
"The division needs some kind of long-term sustainable funding increase," he said. "The license increase is the most feasible approach at this point."
Hunting and trapping licenses haven't increased in more than a decade, Robus noted.
"Name me something that hasn't gone up in price in the last 12 or 13 years," he said. "The only thing I can think of is a hunting license."
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org .