Wolf Song of Alaska News


This Debate is Not About Yogi Bear

David Otness / Compass / Anchorage Daily News / February 27, 2007


The confrontational debate regarding predator control comes down to perception. As with so many other issues that raise emotion higher than facts, it requires asking "From where do those strong feelings originate?"

As I see it, in nature, a wolf is a wolf is a wolf and a bear is a bear is a bear, nothing more and nothing less. When we ascribe human characteristics to wild animals, the debate loses its foundation. The biological facts become subject to creeping anthropomorphism.

All animals have varying levels of consciousness. However, most are concerned with the basic tenets of survival: food, reproduction and escape from threat. Rather like us -- but we have come up with pensions, 401(k)s, insurance, ad infinitum to go along with more base functions of survival.

The human notion of "fair chase" is not one you will find in the wild. The killer whale bats a sea lion up in the air just for practice. A cat toys with prey. Wolves run rampant through avalanche-bound Dall sheep, hamstringing the helpless, trapped animals and then departing after the killing frenzy, leaving uneaten carcasses for the ravens and wolverines. The boar brown bear kills and sometimes consumes younger bears as a matter of course.

This is nature, and as one who has lived it in Alaska over the course of 56 years, I am not writing this to judge the right or wrong of a species' genetic predisposition. But I do believe the truth often gets insufficient billing on the marquee. Predator control is responsible management.

Canadian author Farley Mowat is largely responsible for many people's perceptions of predator-prey relationships and the attendant rise of the wolf to near-mythic status in certain quarters. While discredited by his superiors and peers in the Canadian Wildlife Service, his book "Never Cry Wolf" nevertheless became a classic, particularly for young, idealistic urbanites who wanted to "get back to the land" in the 1970s.

For all the speciousness inherent to that book, Mowat authored several maritime classics and a much-overlooked World War II memoir, which I believe was the basis for a personal catharsis that became "Never Cry Wolf." Mr. Mowat is truly a war hero but like so many came back forever scarred, an alien to the life he once knew and could never reclaim from innocence lost.

I believe he found salvation in elevating the wolf to exalted status, a primeval, symbolic creature untainted by mankind's self-depredations. His sentiments, and that's all they are, though laudable, do not reflect, nor should they influence, our game management policies in Alaska.

We, as the people of Alaska, have an obligation to provide for sustained yield of our resources, and foremost comes the right to harvest animals for the sustenance of our lives. Some people, antithetical to traditional hunting culture, place their economic "right to photograph" on a level of the "right to feed oneself." (The food value of a moose in the Bethel area is estimated at $6,000.)

The consequences of unchecked predator populations are slow, painful starvation and cannibalism. This is factual. Animals don't have a choice about feast or famine. By removing excess predators we are making humane choices here and now.

David Otness is a long-time Alaskan who lives in Seward.

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