To address what it says are "common misunderstandings" about the state's controversial predator control program, the Department of Fish and Game has posted new information on its Web site explaining how killing wolves is being used as a "management tool" in Alaska.
"It is clear that many people don't have accurate information about predator management in Alaska," Doug Larsen, director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation, stated in a press release issued by the department on Tuesday. "We receive a lot of calls and letters from people in and outside the state assuming that wolves are almost extinct in Alaska or mistakenly concluding we are trying to eliminate them altogether."
The information is available online at www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=control.main.
Critics of the state's wolf control program, however, say the information is merely another part of a department campaign to sell the program to a skeptical public.
"To advertise why predator control is good and why stopping it would be bad" is how Tom Banks, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, put it.
Now in its fifth year, the state's aerial predator control program was started to increase moose and caribou populations for hunters. It has been a target for animal-rights activists in Alaska and in the Lower 48.
In the past five years, pilot/gunner teams with permits issued by the state have killed almost 700 wolves in five different control areas around the state. The program thus far has been aimed mostly at wolves but also includes black and grizzly bears.
Dozens of wildlife managers, researchers, and biologists contributed to a 30-page technical report that is available on the Web site. The report has also been summarized in a shorter booklet that includes pictures, charts and graphs. There is also a one-page brochure available on the Web site.
"This is a complex and emotionally charged issue, and people will develop different opinions," Larsen said. "We are trying to get out accurate information about predators and prey, how control programs work, where they are being conducted, and the preliminary results of those programs,"
While Banks said he would reserve further comment until he has read all the information posted on the department's Web site, he has a feeling it will be one-sided.
"I think (the state) is so invested in it because of the millions they've spent on it there will be little motivation to honestly describe where the drawbacks are," he said.
Banks suspects the information is part of the department's campaign aimed at convincing the public to shoot down a ballot initiative approved for the August primary election ballot that will ask voters to change the law so only department personnel can shoot wolves or bears from the air, or land and shoot the predators.
The new information on the department's Web site is not a result of the $400,000 the department got from the state legislature last summer to educate residents about its predator control program, said Ron Clarke, assistant director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Juneau.
"We didn't spend any of that money on this," he said.
The department hadn't updated its predator management information on the Web site since 2004 and it was time to do so, said Clarke. The information posted on Tuesday deals with the biology behind the program but Clarke expects it to generate plenty of opinions.
"It's a real sensitive topic and we tried to be as even-handed as we could," he said. "It will be interesting to see how people take it."
But Banks said the timing of the whole thing begs the question as to whether it's meant to influence the election in August. He suspects the department and state Board of Game, which requested the funds, will use some of the $400,000 to distribute the materials.
"I'm waiting for them to put it into a mass-mailing to every P.O. box holder in the state or put it in as an insert in newspapers around the state," he said.
Fairbanks' Dick Bishop, president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, which represents a large number of Alaska hunters and has been a vocal supporter of wolf control in Alaska, said anything the state can do to educate the public about predator management will help.
"I think it's a good thing to do," he said. "Most people who are moved to express an opinion on predator control are uninformed or misinformed by people who are opposed to the aerial shooting of wolves.
"I think it would be prudent for the department to try to inform people it's not the scorched Earth scenario opponents sometimes portray it to be," he said.
Print copies of the booklet and one-page brochure will also be available at department offices around the state.
Contact staff Writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.