Alaska is a dream whose grandeur is in the grip of special interests that increasingly favor exploitation over preservation.
The regions of Alaska under state control are no less than irreplaceable links in America's last great intact ecosystems. We entrust the health of this world treasure to a cabal of state agencies, including the governor, Legislature, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game. If ADF&G biologists were allowed purely scientific input with this management equation, we could have confidence in the health of what might be Alaska's most important resource - its wilderness. This, of course, assumes that healthy, intact ecosystems are the management goal.
Reality reminds us that special-interest politics rule this biological realm. State biologists can be asked to provide guidelines to grow unsustainably high numbers of moose and caribou, or we can ask them to provide for the wildlife diversity necessary to maintain the health of wild places that have sustained native peoples for thousands of years. The answers to these biological questions are profoundly different.
Recently, we watched as ADF&G submitted last-minute recommendations to the Game board that reminded many of us of the wolf and bear slaughters of the 1950s. Part of this latest regulatory change allows the gassing of wolf pups in dens. The Game board 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 farm Alaska's moose and caribou by eliminating wolves and bears. While the term "eliminating" may be challenged, the biological impact of killing on this ADF&G-recommended scale is the same. The removal of 85 percent of any apex predator will have an impact on all the moving parts of complex ecosystems, including plant life, bird life and 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, it's pocket change. Ornithology, bear viewing and wildlife photography are growing visitor interests, while the number of Americans venturing north to hunt continues to shrink. What happens to the current reality that gives hunters 100 percent of the say in managing Alaska's wildlife, when it becomes apparent that Alaska's wildlife is worth more alive than dead? Note that 100 percent of the Game board is made up of hunters. Other interests are given no place at the management table regardless of economic or biological impact.
Don't extreme predator control advocates benefit the true subsistence hunters? Not really. The six control regions have everything to do with profit for industrialized hunting, not any traditional subsistence harvest. It is those of us advocating for natural diversity that have long-supported a rural subsistence priority. Conversely, the Alaska Outdoor Council has led the fight to deny a subsistence priority for those with a real need for wild meat. The Game board, Legislature, ADF&G and the governor all have a long history of dancing to the AOC's tune. This special-interest, trophy-hunting organization takes no prisoners as they promote a predator holocaust across much of Alaska's wilderness. How can scientifically responsible wildlife management become part of the regulatory control of Alaska's wildlife? The first step is by bringing diverse representation to the Game board. With a governor entrenched in the kill-'em-all camp, diversity on the Game board will not be flowing from her appointments. The only feasible option would be an initiative that mandates diversity on the board. 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 a "Board of Wildlife," as it might be renamed.
Another improvement would be to allow state biologists who have positions other than the current politically controlled version to have a voice in management recommendations. Many biologists now working for 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 include those of the National Research Council and the American Society of Mammalogists, both of which have voiced 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 that use highly controversial methods to rob Alaska of any semblance of natural diversity.
The bottom line: Alaska's wildlife deserves much better than the special-interest wolf and bear holocaust being served up by political appointees.
John Toppenberg of Sterling is director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. A resident of Alaska since 1996, he retired from a 22-year career in law enforcement, the last half in Fort Collins, Colorado