The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is getting ready to spend $100,000 on a video meant to counter what it calls misunderstandings about the state's controversial wolf-killing program.
The video project comes as the arguments over predator control flared up even hotter last week after Fish and Game shot wolves from helicopters in the Interior. The department wiped out a pack including a pair fitted with radio collars for research work by the National Park Service, drawing a barrage of criticism.
Riley Woodford, who is helping manage the video effort for Fish and Game, said the project has been long in the works and wasn't provoked by particular incidents.
"We're not trying to make a big commercial to get people to like predator control. But we want people to understand that wolves are not almost extinct in Alaska, there are lots of wolves in Alaska, and this is how it works," he said.
Priscilla Feral, president of Connecticut-based Friends of Animals and a long-time critic of the program, said a public relations effort is delusional at a time Alaska is shooting collared wolves and removing the wolf protective buffer zone outside Denali National Park and Preserve.
"And they don't think enough people agree with them? That enough people don't understand what they're doing is saintly? Alaska must have a lot of money to waste," Feral said.
The state's predator control program targets wolves and bears in six specific zones where the moose or caribou populations are judged to be too low. Fish and Game says the wolves with park service collars shouldn't have been shot in the eastern Interior and it's investigating what happened. The helicopter hunting in the area, designed to increase moose populations and the size of the Fortymile Caribou Herd, is on hold until there's better snow for tracking wolves.
Fish and Game's Woodford said the video is to address the most frequent questions and criticisms. The department gets a lot of calls from people claiming the state is killing the last wolves in the world or that hunting is just barbaric sport even if predator control works to increase game populations, he said.
The state this week asked video producers to bid through April on getting the contract for the work. The department's bid document says the project is meant to address "top priority misunderstood aspects of predator management."
Those include beliefs that predator control is hunting, that the state is trying to rid Alaska of wolves, that Alaskans don't need to shoot moose and caribou for food, that predator control happens statewide, and that the program is based only on politics and not science, according to the department's bid document.
The video would likely include interviews with Fish and Game staff and "perhaps a family or hunter in a small community such as Glennallen," the project description said. Footage may be included showing grocery prices in a small Alaska community, people hunting, processing game at home, and families eating together at mealtime. Archived wolf footage would be used for the video.
Alaska Wildlife Alliance director John Toppenberg said it sounds like a waste of money.
"It's another example of the Department of Fish and Game using public money to facilitate a narrow agenda geared to special interests. Those special interests being extremists within the hunting community, exemplified by Sportsmen for Wildlife," he said.
Toppenberg said he's not claiming wolves are endangered in Alaska "but they will be at the rate the Board of Game is going."
Asked about the video, the Alaska executive director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife said there's nothing wrong with addressing misconceptions about the program.
"Do I think education is a good idea? I think education is a good idea, yes," said Dane Crowley, director of the group.
He said hunters take only a small percentage of the game, and pay for the resource with the fees involved when buying firearms, ammunition, sporting goods and licenses. They're asking Fish and Game to manage for abundance, he said, something which also benefits people who want to view wildlife or photograph it.
The Fish and Game predator control video would be broken into segments of up to 10 minutes, to go on the department Web site for anyone who wants to click and watch. The total production would be no more than about an hour.
The state also plans to make it into a DVD, which could be mailed to people who request a copy or who call about predator control. Copies would go to the local fish and game advisory committees, and could be a part of presentations given by Fish and Game.
Woodford said one of the hardest parts of the project has been identifying the target audience.
"People who already understand this probably aren't going to watch it and people who don't like predator control no matter what, may not watch it. But at least it's an attempt to give people some valid information," he said. "And then they can dislike predator management for valid reasons."
The department is budgeting up to $100,000 for the video project, with distribution costs to come in addition to that. The money comes out of a $400,000 appropriation made by the Legislature in 2007 to get information out on predator control. Woodford said less than half of the money has been spent with the production of brochures and research papers.