I have used this term in the past, but never before has the phrase "Palin's war on wildlife" seemed so chillingly accurate. It is well known that Sarah Palin has stacked the Alaska Board of Game with "harvesters" while shunning conservationists. But, the detailed article in Alaska Dispatch by conservationist and author Bill Sherwonit is absolutely chilling. I don't say that lightly.
Most Alaskans understand and respect subsistence hunting. I know people for whom moose was, and is, a staple food that carries their family through the winter. And most Alaskans don't frown too much at some degree of sport hunting, because it's understood that we, as humans, are predators too, and we somehow fit into the amazing ecosystem that surrounds us. The balance of nature is generally respected by hunters and non-hunters alike, and these two groups tend to have an uneasy, but workable alliance. At least, that's how it's been in the past.
But now, in the spirit of free market sport hunting in the Mat-Su Valley, Sarah Palin's back yard, her administration has figured out how hunters can compete even more effectively with natural wild predators. Kill them. Kill a LOT of them.
The Board of Game and Department of Fish and Game aim - or at least hope - to kill up to 60 percent of the 2,500 to 3,000 black bears that, in their opinion, prey upon an unacceptably high number of moose calves in Unit 16B, a huge area that extends from the foothills of the Alaska Range to Cook Inlet and from the Yentna River southwest to Redoubt Creek (which flows off the rumbling Redoubt Volcano).
Sixty percent! If that's not a slaughter, what is? (The state admits it is unlikely to reach that goal, but why not shoot for the moon, eh?)
In discussing the unprecedented use of snares to catch and then kill black bears, Board member Ted Spraker talked about the inevitable "collateral damage," in this instance involving brown bears. It is, of course, a term he borrowed from the military.
And Ben Grussendorf, the most moderate member of the Board (which isn't saying much), described his initial gut reaction to several proposed changes this way: "Man, this is a jihad against black bears by paramilitary groups."
Welcome, once again, to wildlife management under Gov. Sarah Palin, where everything possible is being done to kill off the predators that compete with Alaska's human hunters for moose and caribou. No matter that many, perhaps most, of these people live in urban areas and participate in "sport" hunts.
In fact many of the ones most interested in Unit 16 moose live in Palin country, the Mat-Su Valleys. These folks - and lots of Anchorage-area hunters, too - simply want to fill their freezers with wild game and by God the Palin administration is going to do everything it can to help 'em out, short of controlling the weather.
The Board of Game also voted to extend the bear baiting season in Palin's Unit 16. And they're also gearing up to start gassing wolf pups in their dens with carbon monoxide. Probably makes it a lot easier to dispose of them that way, than waiting for them to grow up so they can get shot from helicopters.
Apparently the person who holds the newly created position with the Orwellian name "Assistant Commissioner for Abundance Management," Corey Rossi, was able to assuage the concerns about these new policies by assuring the Board that it would create an equally Orwellian "attitude of stewardship". Did I mention that Assistant Commissioner Rossi was a good friend of the Palins before he got this job?
And don't think that the only people affected by these new policies are semi-lazy middle-aged guys in flannel shirts who want to be able to go out with their buddies and be guaranteed to bag a moose without a whole lot of looking around. Nope, this is a family affair. The Board voted 4-2 to let children from the ages of 10-15 come along for the fun killing bears, since public participation will be required to reach the enormous kill goal for bears.
Sherwonit's final point, and it's a good one, is the fact that hardly any attention is being paid to these issues. Why? Alaska conservationists may be feeling beaten down, or marginalized or tired. The mainstream media may be feeling like nobody cares, and the only people they hear from are the ones who sneer at the "tree huggers" and the "radical environmentalists."
I recall several years ago, when massive tourist boycotts of Alaska were called for because of the aerial wolf hunting controversy. Alaskans got all riled up and distressed because, they said, these policies didn't represent the average Alaskan's opinion. Why punish the regular folks who make a living from tourism because of a few people at the top? So, where are the regular people who are outraged by this? If these policies do not reflect your values, it is an obligation to step forward and say so. There's an old adage, "silence is consent."
Sherwonit goes on to say:
I also remain discouraged that, with few exceptions, Alaska's conservation groups remain out of the picture. I suppose that with global warming, oil and gas industry activities, clean-energy initiatives and other big-picture items, their plates are pretty full and perhaps overflowing. But this new push for "abundance management" - the latest buzzwords for intensive management and predator control - is way out of control.
Only a few greenie organizations even commented on the proposals considered at this meeting. Even fewer sent people to testify; and most of them quickly vanished afterward.
For much of the last weekend, I sat in the Dena'ina Center surrounded by big-game hunting guides, trappers and hunters, state wildlife managers, and Board of Game members and their support staff. At most a handful of us opposed to the state's current wildlife-management regime bore witness to the machinations, and only one of those few represented a conservation group, Wade Willis of Defenders of Wildlife.
Perhaps the Palin administration is counting on the fact that if eco-tourists boycott Alaska travel (if this story gets traction) will be counterbalanced by those who want to come here to kill off some of the "abundant" wildlife. Or, perhaps she just feels like tipping the scales so folks in her home district can keep themselves and their kids entertained by killing not only moose, and more moose, but bears too.
Either way, what's clearly needed here is dissemination of information. This "management for abundance" needs to be called out for what it really is - a war on Alaska's wildlife.