Wolf Song of Alaska News

More Meat, Fewer Predators Emerge as Board of Game Hot Topics

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 1, 2008

The way he looks at it, Tom Paragi's job at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is to provide game meat for Alaskans.

"People ask me what the purpose of intensive management is. To me, it's feeding people," Paragi, the state's intensive management coordinator, told the Alaska Board of Game on Friday.

With that, Paragi summed up the motivation behind many of the 138 proposals the state game board will examine over the course of the next 10 days during its meeting at Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks.

While the first day was devoted to staff reports like Paragi's, the board will begin taking public testimony at 8:30 a.m. today in support or opposition of specific proposals to liberalize or restrict hunting regulations in Interior game management units. The proposals have been submitted by the Department of Fish and Game, local advisory committees and members of the public.

Judging from many of the proposals before the board, Interior hunters want more moose and caribou to put in their freezers and believe it will require killing more bears and wolves. But as Paragi pointed out in his presentation on intensive management, reducing predation on prey is only one part of the equation. Other issues like access, habitat, weather and social factors also play a role in wildlife management in Alaska.

"The challenge is to provide access and not have hunters stacked on top of each other like they are in the Lower 48 where there are roads everywhere," Paragi told the board. "We have huge areas that are fairly inaccessible even by airplane because of lack of landing strips."

And even when the department does try to make more meat available for hunters in areas where they can get to it, they are not always willing to do what it takes, such as shooting cow or calf moose, Paragi said, alluding to the controversy that has arisen in the last few yeas surrounding large-scale antlerless moose hunts around Fairbanks.

All of which makes managing wildlife in Alaska more of a challenge than other places.

"I hear it all the time from people, 'Why don't you manage moose like they do in Sweden?'" Paragi told the board.

In Sweden, he said, there are about 400,000 moose and hunters kill about 100,000 each year, a harvest rate of 25 percent. In Alaska, there are approximately 150,000 moose and hunters kill about 6,000-8,000 a year, a harvest rate of 3-4 percent.

"If Alaskans chose to manage moose more like Sweden, we could increase the harvest but I'm not sure Alaskans would be willing to do that," Paragi said.

For example, of the 100,000 moose killed in Sweden each year, 50,000 are calves and 30,000 are cows, he said.

"I'm not sure Alaskans would accept that," he said, alluding to a long-standing philosophy among many Alaskan hunters that cows and calves should be off limits.

There are also virtually no predators in Sweden, Paragi said. That's not the case in Alaska.

The most productive moose hunting area in Alaska is Unit 20A south of Fairbanks, where hunters have killed an average of about 1,200 moose a year since the antlerless hunt was instituted four years ago. That equates to a harvest rate of only about 6 percent and predators kill four times as many moose than hunters in Unit 20A, he said.

Access is another issue. Alaska has only about 4,000 miles of roads while Sweden, which is only about one-quarter the size of Alaska, has more than 250,000 miles of roads.

Sweden also has a commercial market for moose meat and a thriving timber industry that provides a constant supply of fresh habitat for moose. That's not the case in Alaska, Paragi said.

Even so, Paragi said the moose harvest per capita in Alaska (1 percent) is basically the same as it is in Sweden, which is home to 9 million people.

In Alaska, intensive management is dictated more by where the department can effectively influence game populations using techniques like predator control and prescribed burns to build game populations in areas where people can get to them.

"We need to look at where to optimize efficiency," he said. "Where are we going to get the best bang for our buck to feed people?

"In some parts of the state it's going to be much more difficult to enhance and maintain populations," Paragi said. "Do we focus on urban areas where we've got a lot of moose or do we focus in remote areas where there aren't many moose but the people are more dependent on them?"

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