Wolf Song of Alaska News


A Good Game Board Nominee

Rudy Wittshirk / AK Voices / Anchorage Daily News / April 23, 2010

In the next few days or so Governor Parnell is going to announce his replacement for Al Barrette on the Board of Game. The next appointment may be a voting member on the Board of Game for the entire upcoming board cycle in 2010/2011 prior to being confirmed by the Legislature.

Vic Van Ballenberghe would be a great Game Board member in terms of adding diversity and knowledge. He is a biologist with 36 years of Alaska experience studying moose and wolves; has previously served on the Game Board; and could be a voice for applying sound science to important wildlife management issues. Vic Van Ballenberghe is one of Alaska’s elder statesmen in the scientific community.

Attending State University of New York in Oneonta, he majored in biology and earned a teaching certificate. Then, after working as a high school science teacher for a couple of years, he entered graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a doctorate while studying moose and wolves. He earned his BS, MS and PhD. degrees in biology and wildlife management. His MS research was on moose in northern Minnesota and his doctoral research was on wolves in the same area. In Minnesota, Van Ballenberghe became one of the first biologists in the world to apply the new technology of radio-collaring to the study of wolves.

After graduate school Mr. Van Ballenberghe was on the faculty of South Dakota State University in the Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

He moved to Alaska in 1974 and worked five years for the Department of Fish and Game as a research wildlife biologist and statewide furbearer biologist. Then came twenty years as a research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service where he conducted field studies on moose and wolves in the Glennallen, Cordova and Denali National Park areas. He has published over 100 technical papers on the results of these studies, and wrote popular articles in journals such as National Geographic.

Construction of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline offered many new research opportunities. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game needed someone to study the pipeline's impact on moose trying to migrate across it. Van Ballenberghe landed the job.

For the next five years, he used airplanes to observe radio-collared moose. Ultimately, the research concluded that yes, the pipeline would probably prevent some moose from crossing the corridor in certain places during the deepest snows of winter, but it probably wouldn't matter in the long run.

Still, that wasn't the start of his real education as a moose biologist, Van Ballenberghe says. That didn't begin until 1980, when he was hired by the U.S. Forest Service to be a field biologist of the truly muddy-boot variety, exploring Denali National Park for weeks at a time, year after year, to study the resident moose.

Vic retired from government service in 2000 and has been self employed as a wildlife biologist since then. He has continued his long-term studies of moose in Denali National Park from 2000 to the present time through the University of Alaska Fairbanks; has written many articles on wildlife management issues; and published a book in 2004---"In the Company of Moose." He still spends about six weeks a year in the field, searching for surviving moose calves each spring and following the rut each fall.

Vic previously served on the Board of Game three times, 1985-1988, 1996 and 2002. In the interim he has attended many Game Board meetings and provided written and oral testimony on various proposals before the Board.

Mr. Van Ballenberghe has been a hunter all his life and has held hunting licenses in various states every year since 1959. During that time he has hunted game every year up to and including 2009. He currently holds an Alaska permanent lifetime hunting, fishing and trapping license issued to seniors.

With a PhD. in wildlife management and extensive work experience in that field, Vic has always supported management based on sound science and established conservation principles. His early research on predator-prey relationships among wolves, bears, moose and caribou formed part of the foundation for many of the management programs implemented in Alaska since the late 1970s. His service on the Game Board and input to the Board after his terms expired contributed to application of sound science and drew attention to the need to base management decisions on research results.

Mr. Van Ballenberghe believes he can fairly represent a wide diversity of interests on the Board ranging from those who hunt and trap to those who value wildlife viewing. As a resident of Anchorage, he can represent others who live there by being available to them and receptive to their concerns. Anchorage, Alaska’s largest population center, currently has no one on the Game Board. 

With 35 years of field experience---including a quarter-century tracking moose in Denali National Park---Vic has come to regard moose as generally calm creatures, with a few notable exceptions. A cow with a calf can be lethally protective, and bulls turn violent during the rut---though this can be overstated, he says.  

When moose charge people, Van Ballenberghe strongly endorses the old backwoods maxim: Stand your ground against a charging bear, run from a charging moose.
"And if you do run," he says, "99 percent of the time moose are satisfied---they won't chase you."

But if they do chase you, he says the best option is to run to the far side of the nearest big tree.

Throughout all his experiences, Vic is thankful not to have ended up as the kind of biologist who is chained to his desk or relegated to an airplane. He would much rather work in the field.

"I made my living as a researcher, and I published a lot of papers," he says. "But I've always considered myself more of a naturalist. ... I was lucky to be able to do what I've done there. Nowadays, there are very, very few field biologists."

If you think Mr. Ballenberghe is qualified, contact the head of Boards and Commissions in Governor Parnell's office: jason.hooley@alaska.gov.

Rudy Wittshirk


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