FAIRBANKS -- Five hundred wildlife professionals recently verified what a majority of Alaskans already know: Indiscriminate airborne killing of predators is bad, there is no scientific justification for it and it has no place in the management of Alaska's wildlife.
Twice in the past two years, the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) sent a letter to Frank Murkowski protesting most strongly against his administration's permitting of airborne hunting.
The mammalogists are very clear in their statements. They note they are "disturbed by the potential mismanagement of large mammalian carnivores and their ungulate prey in Alaska." They further state that "some new predator-control programs approved by the Alaska Board of Game do not meet scientific standards required for the sound management of these valuable natural resources."
These are not the Outside bogeymen the Alaska Outdoors Council likes to summon up to goad Alaskans into reacting one way or another. These are experts with years of field research behind them, professionals whose only interest in Alaska is that wise management of our wildlife become the norm rather than the exception, as is now the case. They realize we in Alaska have the last largely intact American wilderness and probably the only populations of wildlife that have not been irrevocably skewed by decades of interference.
An example of such distortion is the 40 Mile Caribou Herd. The Board of Game has severely depressed predator populations there, attempting to bring the numbers of caribou to what they consider a historical high.
But is that what is best for the caribou? Has the range increased in forage production to the point where it can sustain twice as many animals as at present? Was any historical high just an aberration that, if again attained and then intensively managed to remain at that level, would result in overpopulation? That's what happened in the mid-'90s with the Nelchina herd when it was similarly mismanaged.
The Alaska Outdoors Council, whose influence on the Board of Game is immense and drives most of the regulation, seem to feel it is simply a matter of getting numbers as high as possible. In doing so, they disregard the effects on vegetation and habitat. No matter how many predators are removed, if the nutrition isn't present in the environment in sufficient quality and quantity, the herd will grow too fast and large numbers will starve. This is just one example of why the mammologists' society has taken what for them is an unprecedented action and submitted these letters of concern.
We are in the midst of an onslaught on our wildlife the likes of which we have never seen before. The Board of Game is actively and at times blatantly seeking the complete elimination of entire wolf populations in many areas to artificially boost moose and caribou numbers. This is most often done in response to nothing more than anecdotal testimony. It should be especially worrisome to Alaskans that this has been done a number of times in direct opposition to the recommendations of our Department of Fish and Game.
Recently, petitions bearing 57,000 signatures of Alaskans opposed to airborne hunting were turned in to the state as part of the initiative process. Airborne hunting has twice been banned by a large majority of Alaskan voters. Surveys show 83 percent of Alaskans and 71 percent of Alaska hunters disapprove of the practice. And now, a prestigious organization of wildlife professionals is sounding the warning bell about the actions of the Board of Game, actions that are lacking in science.
The Board of Game is correct in one respect: Our wildlife is definitely in danger. It's not from the wolves or bears, though, but from the very board charged with their protection and wise management.
Art Greenwalt lives in Fairbanks. He is a board member of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.