This summer the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shot 14 wolf pups at their den sites in the southern Alaska peninsula (Game Management Unit 9D) - an action that conservation groups contend was illegal.
Despite recent widespread criticism facing the agency for its handling of the pups, the department has taken the incredible step of confirming that this brutal practice, called "denning," could become a regular occurrence. At the Board of Game's fall meeting this month, Fish and Game released a protocol that solidifies the killing of young wolf pups in their dens as official policy for department employees.
While Fish and Game has made its intention to expand the use of denning clear, not all the blame for Alaska's dubious wildlife management policies rests with the department. After all, the Board of Game mandated the killing of all wolves in certain areas of the southern Alaska peninsula earlier this year, which resulted in the killing of the wolf pups.
Unfortunately, this comes as no big surprise. Gov. Sarah Palin and her supporters in the state Legislature, who appoint and approve new board members, have filled the Board of Game's ranks solely with hunting interests. As a result, the board is heavily weighted toward hunting interests at the expense of tourism or other non-consumptive uses of wildlife. The board's lack of diversity has resulted in lopsided policy, leaving little wonder as to why Alaska has been unsuccessful at balancing wildlife conservation with the needs of hunters. Some of the most respected scientific organizations in the nation, including the American Society of Mammalogists, have overwhelmingly condemned Alaska's predator control programs for their lack of scientific evidence.
Alaska's constitution mandates the board to manage state wildlife resources for the benefit of all Alaskans. Yet Alaska's tourism industry, providing nearly 40,000 jobs annually and pumping around $1.15 billion of wages and other benefits into the economy, has no effective representation on the board. Thousands of tourists choose to visit the Last Frontier each year to experience Alaska's natural beauty and to see wolves, brown bears, migratory birds and other animals living in the wild. Tourism brings in vital dollars to both rural Alaska economies and family and native owned businesses. That's one reason why many Alaska residents and business owners would appreciate wildlife policies aimed at supporting diverse, healthy wildlife populations that ensure both a sustainable harvest for hunters and respect the needs and priorities of the tourism industry.
Many members of other user groups are very qualified and have the necessary experience and biological training to make effective board members. Opening a board seat to such a person would bring a much-needed new perspective to how Alaska stewards its wildlife.
* Wade Willis lives in Anchorage and is the Alaska representative of Defenders of Wildlife.