The debate over aerial gunning of wolves is about to heat up again, and it's anything but simple.
As snow, weather and daylight conditions ripen for so-called wolf control pilot-gunner teams, more wolves will be killed and media outlets will feel compelled to report this year's kill numbers - which have proved to be modest every year so far.
To boot, Alaska is on track to see yet another ballot initiative seeking an end to aerial gunning; an initiative based on the fallacy of an undefined "biological emergency," a sentiment against a method of killing that many find distasteful (mostly because they know nothing about it), and a pretense that the "science" dictated by a political move is somehow smarter than the science practiced by the nation's most knowledgeable wolf biologists.
There is so much history to this debate, so many misperceptions mixing science with emotion and philosophies fighting practicalities that individual voters have little hope of finding clear answers as to what's right or wrong for Alaska.
As one local long-time observer of the debate said: "There are two extremes. One says there should be absolutely no more wolves in Alaska. The other says there should be absolutely no more people in Alaska."
And the debate covers everything in between.
That is, the extremes should not be part of the debate.
It's better to narrow the discussion to what really counts, and that is looking ahead to what is best for our state which, naturally, is what is best for the state's wildlife resources.
First, this ballot initiative should fail. It admits wolf control can be necessary, but only allows it in the case of a biological emergency, a term it leaves undefined - thus securing the futures of several animal rights attorneys. The limiting language also dictates crisis wildlife management. "Leave it alone until there is a crisis - then worry about it," it would say. Ask yourself if that's the kind of life-skills advice you would give your children and you'll have your answer as to whether that's a foundation for wise wildlife management.
Secondly, Alaskans have to embrace wildlife management as, historically, a strong element in the drive to seek statehood. We need to recognize that in the many decades of debate over wolf control, it's always been the Alaska residents who rely most closely on wildlife resources who have fought to bring control efforts back - and always with an ultimate desire to see plentiful wildlife of all kinds.
Thirdly, we have to get over the fear of aerial gunning of wolves as a wildlife management tool. The "black-eye for Alaska" fear factor has been proven false. Most tourists clearly are more fascinated in learning about how Alaskans live than telling us to live just like they do back home. The idea that this opens wolves to a "slaughter" also has been proved untrue by the past several years watching private, state-permitted teams. Only once in four years did any wolf-control area see the teams hit a maximum goal, yet the method has worked as a supplement to traditional hunting and trapping to meet population goal ranges. The only thing that would make the programs better is allowing state teams to use helicopters to fill in where the private efforts fell short, an option Gov. Frank Murkowski took off the table.
No, if Alaskans want to do what's best for the state's wildlife we should stop bashing our heads over emotionally loaded methods-and-means and put our political energy behind securing adequate funding for a well-staffed and well-equipped Wildlife Conservation Division and give them all the tools they need to do the job our state Constitution asks them to do.
Then again, maybe it is just that simple.