Wolf Song of Alaska News

Worse Than Wolves

Rudy Wittshirk / Alaska Voices / Anchorage Daily News / March 17, 2010

Perhaps the extremely rare killing of a Human by wolves will focus the attention of the Alaska public on the overall sad condition of their “common” wildlife heritage under the “consumptive” management system. The “wolf problem” is just a symptom---Alaska has a wildlife management problem.

The actual danger posed by the Chignik wolves is being properly dealt with by Fish & Game officials using helicopters to hunt them down. There were only four wolves. Probably quite hungry.

aribou in the surrounding area had been wiped out. Most likely by the use of aircraft and vehicles. The wolves gravitated toward the village looking for something to eat. [SEE CLARIFICATION BELOW]

There was an eminently sane wolf editorial in Sunday’s (3-14-10) Anchorage Daily News: Keep the Denali wolf buffer and kill the wolves who killed the Human. Why can’t Alaska’s Game Board be as rational? Because it does not represent the public but instead represents wildlife “consumers” and those with commercial interests in the “consumption” of wildlife.

The latest appointee to the Game Board, Al Barrette, is an individual with a not untypical abundance of business and personal conflicts of interest. Governor Sean Parnell appointed Al Barrette to replace Bob Bell on the Alaska Board of Game.
In making this appointment did Governor Parnell consider that The Board Of Game creates all aerial hunting regulations? Mr. Barrette is proud his was the first such permit.

Did the Governor consider that The Board Of Game creates all trapping regulations? Mr. Barrette has patented and manufactures a wolf trap. He owns a fur tannery in Fairbanks.
Mr. Barrette also holds some weird wildlife “science” views. Just read his own words as transcribed from a Backpacker Magazine video when Mr. Barrette was on the Fairbanks Advisory Council to the Alaska Board of Game [taken from Shannyn Moore's ] :
Al Barrette on the bible and man’s role in game management:

“…it specifically puts out in the first book of the bible, in Genesis, that we should, uh, subdue nature and control it.  We should be the managers of the animals and through the…the sin of Adam and Eve is what brought it on, and, uh, in fact, the first, uh…the first clothes that were made for Adam and Eve were skins of animals…by God.”

Does Mr. Barrette really seem like an appointment that would best represent Alaskans’ “common” interest in wildlife? He is not the exception to the rule---the system is dominated by rather similarly over-emotional hunter-trapper interests. This is how wildlife is managed in Alaska.

Because Mr. Barrette has not yet been approved by the Legislature, he is vulnerable to being removed from the Board when the Joint Legislative Session is held at which appointments are acted upon. The Game Board is already overloaded with such persons.

In Alaska we have an ailing wildlife and wild lands ecosystem. Except for imbalanced populations in isolated areas there is no longer an abundance of anything (Anchorage is an exception). It’s not just moose and caribou that have been wiped out---these are merely the preferred targets of Alaska’s obsessive system of management. A healthy ecosystem would have thriving populations of all species---especially those rare animals such as lynx, marten and yes, wolves and bears.

The greater Hatcher Pass area, for instance---while historically heavily “used”---had a relative abundance of a variety of wildlife just fairly recently. The breeding herds of cow moose were legendary. There were plenty of bears. Now a bear is a rare, exotic animal. There were even a few wolverines left. Caribou were actually making a comeback.

Foxes were fairly abundant. I used to see fox tracks all over the spring snow when I ski-dogged on the frozen crust deep into the wilderness. But their recent depletion is not necessarily due to trapping---the area around here had already been “trapped out” for some time. The overall absence of wildlife is also due to the depletion of such “keystone species” as moose, caribou, bears, wolves, coyotes, wolverines, lynx and anything larger than squirrels. Although there aren’t that many squirrels and rabbits either.

Birds are missing too. The once-abundant ptarmigan are, just like the moose, reduced to a few scrawny survivors. This is literally a wildlife death zone, a wasteland, a scorched Earth. It’s called “empty forest syndrome.” Alaska’s wildlife situation is a tragic and disgraceful state of affairs for a State which constantly boasts of “abundant wildlife” and supposedly “manages for abundance.”

A special “consumptive” interest group is wiping out everyone’s wildlife for their own amusement and profit---but the public is constantly assured that this is being done for “subsistence” (need) and is being done with “science” (reason). Neither is true.

Wildlife in Alaska is not even managed for hunters or trappers anymore---it is being managed for the aircraft and for the motorized recreational machine. There is not enough of anything left to say wildlife is actually being managed to provide average hunters with healthy herds or average trappers with healthy stocks of fur-bearers---it’s all about barely maintaining token representatives of a few species so that expensive machinery can be deployed in seeking out the last animals in their last hiding places.

“Hunting” and “trapping” in Alaska is all about equipment and services. It’s even more about machinery than it is about wildlife. Just follow the money. Expensive, high-tech equipment is how domesticated outdoorsmen can efficiently kill off wildlife in their spare time. It’s certainly not subsistence. Who spends massive amounts of money on equipment just to "subsist?"

The “consumptive management” system seemed to work for a while---until the wildlife ran out. In Alaska, the last remnants of wildlife populations are being prevented from recovering their numbers by the legalized use of motorized machinery and aircraft. Nature is not quite so ruthless and does a much better job of management.
Rudy Wittshirk


Note: Wildlife biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe adds the following clarification:

Great column, Rudy.
One point of clarification regarding "hungry" wolves that are now turning to humans as prey:

I've heard this for years" "The wolves wiped out moose and caribou and now are lurking around ready to eat people." [Now, I guess it's: "See, I told you so. They ate Candice Berner, didn't they?].

Well, when moose and caribou bottomed out in the mid-1970s in the Nelchina Basin, Tanana Flats and Western Arctic there were no more attacks on people than there were previously when prey was very abundant or later after prey recovered. Good evidence from a "natural" experiment. The declines were HUGE, e.g., Nelchina Caribou--80,000 to 8,000 1962-1971. Tanana Flats moose--23,000 to 2,800 1965-1975. No one was attacked (or eaten) in those areas when prey bottomed out. But a few dogs payed the ultimate price.

It's just another wolf myth that humans will become prey when moose and caribou are scarce.

[Note: These subjects will be discussed further in the continuing series: “Wildlife and Wildlands In Alaska.” After an interim outdoor-fun update, hard-crust, spring-skiing column. - RW]

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