Wolf Song of Alaska News

Wild Alaska Shrinks Before Unseeing Eyes

Rudy Wittshirk / Compass / Anchorage Daily News / May 2, 2007

Wildlife is no longer "abundant" in Alaska. That's why game stewards would allow hunters and trappers to take animals from parks and refuges. Fooled by Last Frontier "abundance" myths, too many Alaskans are willing to hunt or trap the last pockets of wildlife. And too many state wildlife stewards are willing to let them do so. The recent decision to allow trapping of scarce wolverines in Chugach State Park indicates the Game Board has no problem allowing isolated wildlife populations to be whittled down to bare survival levels. On a larger scale, that's what happened to the moose.

The abundant moose, grizzlies, black bears, ptarmigan flocks and fur-bearers of Hatcher Pass are gone -- but hunting and trapping persist. Hatcher Pass marmots and ground squirrels are being "splashed" with scoped, bipod-mounted, high-velocity "varmint rifles" -- there is little else left to shoot. It's called "trapping" but my dogs find carcasses with furs unharvested.

Alaska's wildlife declined under all administrations. The greatest numbers were harvested decades ago. As wild populations plummeted, game managers blamed nature, not humans. Under this no-fault theory, hunting, trapping and motorized access were inadequately managed. Wilderness areas I have wandered for 36 years became vehicle-rich and wildlife-poor.

So, for what kind of "hunting," exactly, are wolves and bears being "controlled?"

Subsistence is the guts of the argument for predator control. But most Alaska hunting involves the direct use of aircraft, motor vehicles and other technology and services. The regulatory process for this wildlife extraction industry cannot, logically, be guided by the desperate ethics of primal, subsistence urgency.

It's mostly about the equipment -- chasing fewer animals with newer vehicles makes moose worth more than their flesh. Per ex-Gov. Murkowski's Record of Achievement: "... whether sport, subsistence or personal use -- the Murkowski administration successfully increased hunting opportunities through liberalized seasons and bag limits, and through intensive predator management."

"Predator management" is "successful" only if hunters actually take more moose -- and that is several years away if ever. The Murkowski administration simply allowed more intensive over hunting. The only reason more moose weren't killed under Murkowski's tenure was because there weren't that many left.

The extra moose promised by predator control are also supposed to fulfill "sport" hunting needs. But sport hunting is deader than subsistence.

In Alaska it's legal to drive around, spot animals, jump out and open fire -- even alongside roadways. "Fair chase" merely refers to the degree of separation, if any, between hunter and vehicle just prior to shooting.

Even game managers with a sense of stewardship and an abhorrence of constitutional racism cannot "scientifically" manage wildlife and wild lands according to the idiot's list of conflicting criteria -- "equal access," "fair chase," "sustained yield," "maximum benefit," "common use," "multiple use," "personal use," "subsistence," "sustenance," "consumption," "depend on" and "sport."

Like any resource extraction process, Alaska game management (including predator control) is determined by political and economic influences. People are willing to pay large amounts of money for an "opportunity" to drive up to wild animals and shoot them.

The Alaska wildlife extraction industry demands liberal game laws, loose regulations, poorly funded enforcement and wild predators to take the blame. Success is determined by how deeply the wilderness can be penetrated by land, sea and air with the latest vehicles. It's combat hunting.

The real "insult" to Alaska Natives and other credible subsistence users is forcing them to compete against an affluent recreational equipment lobby. Unless more Alaskans understand nature by observing wildlife and wild lands directly -- rather than thinking of nature only as a commodity to be "consumed" or "viewed" -- wild Alaska is doomed.

Rudy Wittshirk is a free-lance writer who lives in Willow.

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