Eagle-- I am from Eagle, a small town of fewer than 200 people on the upper Yukon River. I am a member of a local group called Steady, which is for subsistence and ecological balance and against aerial wolf hunting and other extreme predator reduction programs. Steady is a loose group of over 20 adult Eagle residents. All are subsistence users and many are hunters, trappers or both.
Steady opposes the upper Yukon/Tanana wolf and bear predation control plan that was implemented by the Alaska Board of Game in 2004. Our group also strongly opposes the expansion of aerial wolf hunting to roughly 11,000 square miles of land surrounding the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve near Eagle. The plan proposed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a goal of eliminating 77 percent of wolves in this area. If this is passed, as looks likely, it will be bad for subsistence trappers and for the whole stability of animal populations on which we depend.
Two local trappers have told me this winter that they are seeing lots of moose sign on their lines but hardly any wolves. Aerial wolf hunting competes directly with local trappers who use wolf fur to make ruffs and coats for their families as well as supplement their low incomes.
I was born in Eagle but spent the first half of my childhood living downriver in what is now the Yukon-Charley Preserve. My father trapped for a living. Because of this I know that it is not desirable or sustainable to wipe out a whole pack. At a local Game Board advisory meeting, a Fish and Game biologist considered it a success that all but one wolf in a pack were shot from an airplane last winter, but I consider it utter stupidity. Aerial wolf hunting can do terrible damage to the genetic diversity of wolves, irreversibly weakening the species as a whole.
I also feel that the predator reduction program here is based on extremely unrealistic and unsustainable moose harvest goals. For example, Eagle is in Unit 20(E). The average annual harvest in the unit from 1999 to 2003 has been 148 moose. The department has an annual harvest goal of 500-1,000 moose in the focus area, which keep in mind is only a small portion of the unit. (All numbers are taken from the Alaska Board of Game 2004-152-BOG: Authorization of Wolf and Bear Control in the Upper Yukon/Tanana Predation Control Area.)
Once you realize what the outrageous "intensive management" goals are, it becomes clear why our current steady moose numbers are considered low in comparison. These goals are probably not achievable in that area and almost certainly not sustainable even if the better part of wolf and bear populations are eliminated in blatant competition. If a moose farm is what we want, that's the way to get it, but it will also leave us with an unsustainable moose population and a large influx of nonlocal hunters.
Which brings us to why I think it is being done. They try to sell it as benefiting subsistence hunters, but it is the non-local hunter pressure that is rising steeply. I don't think it's a coincidence that these predator-control programs are focused mostly on areas like the Fortymile Drainage or on the range of populations like the Fortymile caribou herd that are accessible by road or river to nonlocal hunters. Local subsistence licenses cost $5. We are not a great source of revenue compared with other hunters.
The Eagle Advisory Game Board voted to support aerial wolf control. I would like to make it clear that this vote does not represent all Eagle residents. I want my 5-year-old son to grow up seeing wolves and bears as well as moose and caribou. I urge people, rural and urban alike, to voice their opposition to the Alaska Board of Game. Because the truth is subsistence equals sustainability.
Sonja Sager lives in Eagle AK