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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Board Games

Hunting and trapping bans aren't a balanced approach

Editorial / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 18, 2009

Former Board of Game members, in asking Gov. Sarah Palin to balance that body by appointing "non-consumptive" wildlife users, are perfectly justified in calling for fair consideration of their views. But the public should understand the essential unfairness inherent in much of the "non-consumptive" agenda.

The advocates of giving non-consumptive uses primacy in certain wildlife management questions too often set up the debate as if we face an "either-or" choice: Either we manage for wildlife viewing in a specific place, or we manage for hunting and trapping. Of course, as the former board members noted in their letter, which we have published below, the two are not often exclusive. But establishing that dichotomy allows some non-consumptive interests to claim that their discomfort with hunting justifies the total banishment of hunters in those specific areas.

Many people do not enjoy the bangs and bullets that come with hunting season - most hunters themselves dislike crowded areas. Animals can become shy when hunted and therefore less easily observed, which can create problems for viewing in areas of special wildlife concentration. Hunting can reduce the actual numbers of wildlife available to watch, and hunting commonly affects the age and sex ratios in the wildlife that we see. So some non-consumptive wildlife users demand more areas where hunting isn't allowed.

But such areas disenfranchise hunters far more absolutely than non-hunters ever are when both share the public space. One side in the debate is asking for policies that eliminate the other side's activities, even while cloaking their claims as an appeal for balance. It doesn't look much like balance to hunters, particularly when their activities already often are limited to just a few weeks a year and when much of Alaska is already off-limits or inaccessible.

Another objective frequently advocated by non-consumptive wildlife users is the curtailment of the state's predator control efforts, as the former board members noted. Predator control can reduce numbers of wolves and bears, sometimes severely if the efforts are to be effective. That can temporarily reduce viewing opportunities for such animals (and hunting or trapping opportunities, for that matter).

In the longer term, though, managing wolf and bear populations with specific, targeted control efforts can moderate the natural, cyclic highs and lows, both in their populations and in those of moose and caribou. Done right, with a close eye on the habitat, this can provide more consistent opportunities to find both predator and prey, not only for hunters but also for viewers.

Those animals won't be stamped in DayGlo orange with the words "Brought to you by the Board of Game." But they will be real, visible animals, and every Alaskan, hunter and non-hunter alike, can enjoy them.


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