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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Will the Real Dimwit Sit Down?

Predator control is neither unethical nor unscientific

Wayne E. Heimer / Community Perspective / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 22, 2009

Priscilla Feral, of Darien, Conn., recently got significant air time on KUAC-FM saying Gov. Sarah Palin is so "dimwitted" that she is following the scientists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and disregarding the ethics of wolf control on Alaska lands in the Fortymile country. While Feral, president of the Friends of Animals, is no stranger to catty discourse, her dimness of wit apparently exceeds that credited to Gov. Palin even by Palin's worst detractors.

For starters, Feral doesn't seem to know or understand human or Alaska history relating to predators. In territorial days, Alaska basically was untouched, and federal wildlife managers assumed that hunting by humans was the major threat to Alaska's wildlife. This assumption persisted and grew to the point that, following statehood, "progressive management" steps gradually eliminated our ancestral human competition with other natural predators for food.

The last 25 years of ADF&G research has shown this was a fundamental mistake. Still, even today, it surprises many folks that non-human predation, not regulated human hunting, is the dominant manageable component of environmental resistance to game population recovery.

Yes, recovery. When we quit competing with other predators (wolves, bears, eagles, and coyotes) while increasing numbers of humans continued to harvest our common prey with better technology, it wasn't too long until populations began to decline under the combined weight of both human and non-human predation. A few bad winters wiped out juvenile prey animals and older adults, habitats were degraded by wildfire control and game became "suddenly" scarce.

There was a well-organized social resistance to reinvigorating our ancestral competition with predators even before we rediscovered they actually compete with us for food. The emotional and political inertia denying the necessity of this competition for food has been significant. This is because those opposing natural competition with predators socially out-competed those wanting to honor our ancestral competition with predators.

Losing "socially" in Alaska meant a succession of governors who, for personal reasons, chose not to support human competition with other predators. For Gov. Hickel, it was ungrounded fear of a tourism boycott by the "Ferals." For Gov. Knowles, it was an emotional reaction. Other governors just didn't care that much. That changed with our election of Gov. Palin. She has a modern approach, which takes the Alaska Constitution and laws seriously where they say wildlife should be managed for maximum sustained yield of human food.

So, who is the real dimwit? I nominate Feral. She's ignorant of human and Alaska history with respect to predators, and apparently doesn't recognize the difference between "ethics" and "morality." Ethics (from the Greek ethos) are the commonly accepted ideals and behaviors shared by an identifiable group. Alaskans are an identifiable group, and our Constitution, laws, regulations and choices at the ballot box define our ethics. These ethical expressions all show Alaskans favor management of wolves to produce human food. Palin agrees. Feral doesn't.

When Ms. Feral attacks the governor's ethical alignment with Alaskans, she demonstrates dimwittedness. I suggest this is because Feral and her friends are actually judging Alaska's clearly expressed ethics as "immoral." Defining "morality" is difficult today. Our contemporary emphasis on individuality encourages everyone to establish their "own internal morality." The apparent conflict of Feral's personal morality with Alaska's expressed ethics is understandable. I'll tolerate it.

However, I reject Feral's violation of the fundamental moral (and ethical) value of truth-telling. In our society, fact (truth) is defined objectively, in this case by "science." So, when Feral simply dismisses the work of recognized scientists at ADF&G, she defines not only her own personal morality, but her personal truth. Here in Alaska, we're too close to natural reality for that to work. It's an Alaska ethic.

That's why most Alaskans have trouble tolerating Feral's ignorant and arbitrary moralizing about a system of biological and social realities she's proven unwilling to understand. I'm puzzled that KUAC and the Daily News-Miner judged Feral's behavior newsworthy. We've seen her "act" many times, and Feral's harsh condemnation of Alaska's ethics is hardly news.

Alaska's prevailing ethics demand restoration and sustenance of human benefits from wildlife. Ethically, this means food. Whether everyone likes it or not, this means reactivating our natural competition with wolves, bears and coyotes while we continue to regulate human harvests and maintain and rehabilitate habitats. This is not new; it is rational; it is ethically Alaskan; and it is considered moral here. I suggest anyone claiming otherwise is an egocentric dimwit, and should sit down.

Wayne E. Heimer of Fairbanks worked at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 25 years, much of that time as the state's principal Dall sheep biologist.

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