Over the years there has been a debate about the composition of the Alaska Board of Game. A recent letter from some former board members suggests that the board should have members that represent non-comsumptive users of wildlife. Other groups, such as the Defenders of Wildlife, have suggested that maybe there should be a member who represents the tourism industry. These groups complain that the board currently only has members to represent hunting and trapping interests.
I have been on the Board of Game for two years now and I can tell you that I don't represent any of the groups noted above. I represent the game populations of this state. I, and I am sure the other six board members, make decisions based on what is best for the game population, including predator, prey and non-game species.
If we don't manage our wildlife properly there won't be any animals to harvest or view. If we allow any species to overpopulate or overharvest, the balance between species is lost.
We can control the harvest of prey species by hunters with regulations, but we can't control the harvest by predators with human laws. Of the moose and caribou that die each year, more than 70 percent die as a result of predator harvest. Only 5 percent to 10 percent are taken by subsistence and non-subsistence hunters. This forces the department of Fish and Game to look at ways to control either the harvest of the species or to reduce the number of predators.
If we allow the prey species to crash, then the predator species also crash because they don't have anything to eat. It is this situation that brings about the very controversial predator control program.
This program is very difficult to implement. First, all other alternatives need to be considered by the department biologists. Then if there is no other choice, it is brought forward by the staff to the board.
If the board agrees the department then has to overcome logistics problems, cost restraints, weather problems and public education. Finally there are the political considerations.
If we were to have board members who "represent" consumptive or non-consumptive users, would they make different decisions in regard to balancing populations? I doubt it.
We all want healthy population of all of our Alaska animals so there is food on the table for our hunters, money in the pockets of our guides and trappers and plenty of animals for viewing by Alaskans and tourists. We do that by having a Board of Game that represents our game populations, not user groups.
The only time the board takes into consideration the user groups is when there is a surplus of prey species. Then the board gets involved in the allocation of those surplus animals between subsistence hunters and other hunters. The same is true of fur bearers.
When I first joined the board the chairman said to me "this is the only job in the state where everybody hates you." After two years serving on the board I can now see he seriously understated the situation. I can see how the public gets upset about controversial game management programs such as predator control when they are only given part of the information and in some cases mis-information. Game Board members are then cast as bad guys when all they are trying to do is manage the game for all users.
Alaska is blessed with some of the biggest game populations in the United States and some of the most unique such as caribou, polar bears and walrus. It is all of our jobs to see that wildlife populations are healthy and vibrant. This is also the first priority of the Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game. If we do our jobs right then there will be plenty of animals for all user groups. Let's not turn this mission political by insisting on board members who represent user groups rather than the animals.
Bob Bell is a member of the Board of Game and previously served on the Anchorage Assembly.