Wolf Song of Alaska News

Managing Wildlife in Crisis Mode is Bad Policy

Paul Jenkins / Voice of the Times / Anchorage Daily News / November 1, 2006

Opponents of using aircraft in predator control programs in Alaska again hope to take their case to the voters.

Alaskans for Wildlife, backers of a petition drive mostly funded by the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Defenders of Wildlife, has gathered more than 56,000 signatures in a bid to get the issue on the 2008 ballot.

The effort mirrors ballot measures approved by voters in 1996 and 2000 ending same-day, land-and-shoot hunting of wolves. Each time, after a two-year period in which the law protects such measures from substantial legislative change, the Legislature granted the Alaska Board of Game authority to develop predator control programs.

The program in effect now, aimed at boosting prey numbers, is active in five areas comprising roughly 10 percent of Alaska. To date, after about three years, the program has accounted for about 560 wolves and is starting to show results. As a comparison, each year, hunters and trappers harvest about 1,000 or more of the state's healthy population of 10,000 to 12,000 wolves, and those activities would not be affected by the ballot measure.

It should be noted that the state's predator control programs, indeed, are based on sound science. The Defenders of Wildlife last year challenged the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's efforts on several points, including the science underpinning them - and lost.

There are two things that bother us about the most recent initiative effort. Why would the measure restrict the culling of wolves to government employees, at state expense, instead of continuing to allow civilian marksmen and pilots to carry out the programs with permits and at their own expense?

Second, shooting would be restricted to those areas where there is a biological emergency, backers say, a determination that would need to be backed by sound science, whatever that might be. Why wait until there is an emergency? Why try to manage wildlife in a crisis mode? It is not unlike waiting for a house to be fully engulfed in flames before spraying the first drop of water.

It would make more sense, it seems to us, to begin managing wildlife populations well before they explode or crater. In the end, by doing it a little bit at a time over the years as needed, it is more likely that you would have to cull fewer wolves and bears than if you waited until there is an emergency.

Saving wolves always wins the support of the public. After all, what is not to like? They are the soul of Alaska. But ballot box biology predicated on crisis management of our wildlife, predator and prey populations alike, is just a bad idea and likely will do more harm than good.

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