Wolf Song of Alaska News

Outdoors Column Missed the Point

Editorial / Frontiersman / December 10, 2006

Alaska has a long and illustrious natural history. For centuries, humans have roamed through and, likely, marveled at the natural wonders of the Last Frontier.

For as long as humans have been present here, hunting and trapping, in one form or another, have been an integral part of life. This is an important heritage in Alaska, one that is carried on today by all who go afield in quest of a moose or caribou for the freezer.

For better or worse, it's also a heritage that may not be completely understood by Outsiders. Still, hunting and trapping are an important part of life in Alaska and deserve to be preserved and defended as a rural lifestyle choice or recreational endeavor.

This, however, does not mean we should discard our democratic principles along the way.

In his weekly Outdoors column in this newspaper Tuesday, Howard Delo offered his warm welcome to the new governor, Sarah Palin. He expressed his high hopes for her tenure and offered suggestions on how she might do better than her predecessors.

In addition to being an excellent and consistently engaging columnist, Delo has well-established outdoor credentials. A former Fish and Game Department biologist who chairs the Mat Valley Fish and Game Advisory Board, Delo has an unsurpassed grasp of fish and game issues in Alaska. So it was surprising to me that he trotted out some of the favorite myths and misconceptions of the hunting set in setting out to instruct the new governor in the ways of constituent service.

A high priority, according to Delo, is the retention of predator-control programs started - or, rather, re-started - under former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Murkowski drew high praise from Delo for bringing back predator control after eight years of refusals under Gov. Tony Knowles, whom Delo blamed for caving to pressure from that favorite bogeyman of Alaska propagandists, the "East Coast Establishment."

Delo goes on to encourage Gov. Palin to listen to her constituents better than Knowles did. In fact, he writes, "listening to her constituents might be the most important thing she can do."

The sentiment cannot be faulted. Listening to constituents should be fundamental to any elected official. But, since there are few issues that inspire unanimity of public opinion, someone will always feel ignored. Presumably, then, as long as predator-control advocates are listened to, all will be well. At least with them.

The fact of the matter, though, is that predator-control advocates are a tiny minority in Alaska - as are hunters, in general. In 2005, less than 14 percent of Alaskans were registered hunters, according to Department of Fish and Game statistics.

Delo and his hunting buddies can wail all they want to about the so-called East Coast Establishment. Their cries will never drown out the voices of the vast majority of Alaskans, who twice rejected predator-control programs at the polls, only to have their will disregarded by a legislature catering to Delo's minority special interest group.

Make this democracy-based argument to a predator-control advocate and they'll almost certainly rail against "ballot box biology." They'll tell you, unabashedly, that such decisions should not be left to the whims of the ignorant, unscrubbed masses.

They'll undoubtedly talk about science and studies that validate their desire to shoot wolves from airplanes or to lure unsuspecting bears to their death with boxes of stale Krispy Kremes. If there is any talk of the research touted by those on the opposite side of the issue, it is usually referred to as "junk science" and summarily dismissed.

If all of this smacks of elitism, it's because it is elitist.

I mean, really, would anyone seriously suggest that regular folks are just too plain stupid and uninformed to choose who should be president? Why not let, say, journalists decide for everyone? After all, who could possibly understand all the complex issues facing the country better than someone who follows these things day in and day out?

Ridiculous? Of course it is. But no more so than the notion that, in the absence of irrefutable scientific evidence, regular people shouldn't be allowed to weigh in on game-management issues.

Most elitist of all, though, is the notion that there could possibly be a human solution to a natural "problem." I've only been alive for a few decades, but I'm pretty sure game populations have gotten along OK over the millennia without the all-knowing hands of game-management advocates keeping predator populations in check.

For as long as there have been fish and game, the rhythms of the natural world have maintained the delicate balance between species. When there are too many predators, food supplies become scarce and predator numbers decrease. In turn, species preyed upon begin to flourish again. So it seems more than a little presumptuous to assume that any human edict could supersede the will of Mother Nature.

All this said, I join Delo in welcoming Sarah Palin and wishing her well. Most of all, though, I also join him in his hope that the new governor will listen to her constituents.

Mark Kelsey is the Frontiersman's managing editor. Contact him at 352-2268 or mark.kelsey @frontiersman.com.

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