Alaska is a dream whose grandeur is increasingly in the grip of special interests with ever narrowing ideas about exploitation rather than preservation. I'm referring here to those regions of Alaska subject to state control. These regions are no less than irreplaceable links in America's last great intact ecosystems. We entrust the health of this world treasure to a connected cabal of state agencies, including the governor, legislature, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), and the Board of Game (BOG). If ADF&G biologists in consultation and coordination with federal biologists were allowed independent professional say with this management equation we could have confidence in the long term health of what may be Alaska's most important resource, its wilderness. This of course assumes that healthy intact ecosystems are the agreed upon management goal.
Reality reminds us that special interest politics actually rules this biological realm. State Biologists can be asked to provide formulas to grow unsustainably high numbers of moose and caribou or we can ask them to insure the diversity necessary for the health of wild places that have sustained native peoples for thousands of years. The answers to these biological questions are profoundly different, and reason for this correspondence.
Recently we watched as the ADF&G cowed to their political masters with last minute regulation recommendations to the BOG that reminded many of us of the wolf and bear slaughters of the 1950's. Part of this latest regulatory change allows the gassing of wolf pups in there dens. The BOG cover for these extreme programs is now called "managing for abundance", a catch phrase for an anti science idea formerly called intensive management. The concept here is that we can actually farm Alaska's moose and caribou by eliminating their predators (wolves and bears). While the term "eliminate" may be challenged, the biological impact of killing on this ADF&G recommended scale is the same. The removal of 85% of an apex predator like the wolf will have an impact on all the moving parts of complex ecosystems including plant life, bird life, and all the other creatures that call these places home including fish.
It is this natural diversity that is being sacrificed, the same diversity that brings wildlife viewers from around the world to spend their money in Alaska. Yes, I know, industrialized hunting brings money to the last frontier, but compared to wildlife viewing its pocket change. Ornithology, bear viewing, and wildlife photography are among the growing interests of Alaska's visitors while the percentage of Americans venturing north to hunt continues to contract. What happens to the current reality that dictates hunters having 100% of the say in managing Alaska's wildlife when it suddenly becomes apparent that Alaska's wildlife is literally worth more alive than dead? Note that the Board of Game is made up of 100% hunters. Other interests are given no place at the management table regardless of economic or biological impact.
Don't the radical predator control advocates benefit the subsistence hunters spread across Alaska? Not really! The five extreme predator control areas have everything to do with modern for profit industrialized hunting, not any traditional subsistent harvest. It is those of us advocating for diversity management that have long supported a rural subsistence priority. While the special interest powerhouse known as the Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC) and now its cloned twin Sportsmen for Wildlife have led the fight to deny a priority for those with a legitimate need for wild meat. Note that the BOG, legislature, ADF&G, along with the governor has a long history of dancing to the AOC tune. Let there be no doubt that this special interest trophy hunting organization wields tremendous power in the promotion of a perpetual predator holocaust across much of Alaska's wilderness.
How can biologically responsible wildlife diversity become part of the regulatory management of Alaska's wildlife? The first step is by bringing diversity to the BOG. With a governor firmly entrenched in the kill most of the predator's camp diversity on the BOG will not be flowing from her appointments. The only known option would be an initiative that mandates diversity. This would be in line with the state constitution which states that Alaska's wildlife be managed for all Alaskans, not just hunters. Polling indicates Alaskans strongly favor this "all Alaskans" concept but let there be no doubt about the difficulty of creating via initiative a "Board of Wildlife" as it might be renamed.
Another positive action would be to allow state biologists who have professional positions other than the current politically controlled version to have a voice in management recommendations. Many biologists now working for the ADF&G are forced to remain silent as accepted biological standards are ignored and the department plays political games with wildlife that belongs to all Alaskans. Accepted biological standards are, as examples, those recognized by the National Research Council and the American Society of Mammalogists, both of which have voiced serious concerns about the lack of science that is the current regulatory norm. Many of us know biologists who strongly disagree with the weakly justified, poorly executed and minimally monitored predator control programs using highly controversial methods to rob Alaska of any semblance of natural diversity.
Bottom line: Alaska's wildlife deserves much better than the special interest slaughter being served up by political appointees.
Alaska Wildlife Alliance