Wolf Song of Alaska News
State Fish and Game Goes Mad On Unimak Island: Last Frontier Fantasies Die Hard

Alaska Voices / Anchorage Daily News / May 30, 2010

Rudy Wittshirk 

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The wildlife management madness of Unimak Island is typical of the way in which the State of Alaska has managed to squander a renewable resource---our entire wildlife heritage.

There is a wildlife “emergency” on Unimak Island---there aren’t enough caribou bulls. One good reason is that the commercial guiding services and their clients have already cleaned out too many trophy bulls. However, wolves must now die to expiate the sins of the State and the guiding interests. The following is from Bill Sherwonit’s enlightening AK Voices piece of May 28, 2010: “Unimak Island’s Caribou: A Crisis Created by Fish and Game?”
“…Fish & Game and the BOG [Board of Game] insist the wolf kill is necessary because of the caribou herd’s importance as a subsistence resource…despite the fact that only a dozen caribou have been harvested by local residents since 2000, while guided nonresident hunters killed 90 caribou between 2001 and 2008, when both the subsistence and sport hunts were shut down because someone finally recognized the herd was in trouble. This information (supplied by the FWS) [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] merits repeating: 12 kills for subsistence, 90 for trophies. So who’s going to benefit the most if and when the herd recovers and hunting is again allowed? Locals? Uh-uh. Big-game guides? You betcha.

“…residents of False Pass, Unimak’s only community, have told FWS employees that they do most of their caribou hunting on the Alaska Peninsula, not the island they inhabit, because of Unimak’s challenging terrain and difficult access to the hunting grounds. [Being "subsistence users" they can’t afford commercial “guides” to fly them around.] It’s also noteworthy that the diets of False Pass and other regional communities consist mostly of marine foods. So where is the subsistence crisis? I would argue there is no such crisis, except as manufactured by state wildlife officials.

“There’s no end in the state’s hypocrisy. Fish and Game’s own annual harvest data show that state officials allowed hunters – most of them guided nonresidents – to kill Unimak caribou even as the herd steadily declined. And nearly all of the caribou were bulls, despite a diminishing bull:cow ratio that eventually reached 5:100, reportedly the lowest ever documented in Alaska. That exceedingly low bull:cow ratio is one of the state’s strongest arguments for proceeding with the expanded wolf-kill program, but who’s to blame for it? Not the wolves, but state wildlife managers.”

The Alaska Fish and Game antics on Unimak Island follow the same pattern of game mismanagement and incompetence that has been repeated all over Alaska. Here’s how it works: The State allows overhunting and then declares an “emergency”---which always involves killing wild predators; is always justified by false claims of “subsistence;” and is always validated by more false claims that this wacky process is somehow “scientific.”

Wildlife “science” on this basic level is not at all complicated. For starters and simply put: If the State doesn’t know how many wolves there are before sending in their helicopter gunships…it does not qualify as even basic, fundamental, first-semester biology. However, as on Unimak, Fish and Game can’t even be bothered to count the numbers of wolves in the populations they so desperately wish to cleanse.

As Bill Sherwonit notes about the Unimak Island situation: “State biologists figure that means killing no more than seven to eight wolves, though how they come up with that number is anybody’s guess, since so little is known about Unimak’s wolves or their behaviors.”

In other words, the State doesn’t know how many wolves there are on the island---all they know is about how many they want to kill. Makes no sense at all.

Furthermore, just because the commercial guiding services have caused all the trophy bulls to be shot and now do not have enough to satisfy the needs of their clients does not a “wildlife emergency” make---it‘s a management crisis and a guiding crisis. A Human-caused crisis.

Now, assuming there is an actual “wildlife crisis,” it is not necessarily “scientific” to assume that the only answer to any and all perceived wildlife emergencies is to mount up in aircraft and start blasting wolves. Or hold impromptu “emergency” hunting and trapping safaris to kill predators.

So you see, the State has not been scientific in implementing the process of predator control---if indeed there is any “process” at all. The State has been allowing a “renewable” resource to be wiped out and its only solution has been to wipe out more wildlife. So, instead of a series of logical steps and fact-based deductions, we have a series of fibs and falsehoods to justify the preordained “solution” of blaming wild predators for everything and then gunning them down or otherwise exterminating them in wildly hotheaded courses of action.

Okay, so Fish and Game can’t count---Fish and Game can’t be bothered with doing population studies or environmental impact studies. Okay, so Fish and Game has been misleading the public about the “science.” Okay, so Fish and Game has been misleading the public about the “subsistence.” Okay, so every time the State says they are doing something for “subsistence”---it’s actually being done for the trophy hunting guiding businesses. Okay, so Fish and Game has been misleading the public about the nature of and causes of its wildlife “emergencies.” Okay, so not even the subsistence users are claiming subsistence on Unimak Island. Okay, so Fish and Game is suing the feds as a publicity stunt because they know Alaskans don‘t like the feds anyway. The State is trying to make the feds look bad---to put the blame on the feds---but the State’s wildlife bureaucracy is way worse than the federal bureaucracy in this case.

So why do Alaskans tolerate a system of State wildlife management that is destroying our wildlife? Because most Alaskans view wildlife as a video postcard to impress the folks back home. This leaves wildlife at the mercy of commercial interests.

In my blog “Rich Man’s Hunt, Poor Man’s Hunt - Trophy Hunting Is Now ‘Subsistence‘” I laid out the situation of for-profit game management by guiding interests and the Governor. But it’s even worse than sheer greed, profit and politics. The State will continue to kill wolves and bears whenever it feels like it because, once these things get started they develop a momentum of their own. Once the blood is up it becomes a killing frenzy. Furthermore, at this point---after having slaughtered so many wolves and bears---none of these predator-killers (including the clueless Governor Parnell) is about to admit they did anything wrong. In fact, they will continue to claim they are the saviors of wildlife and hunters alike---and the pious benefactors of subsistence users all over the State. Even as wildlife populations continue to plummet. Which, to them, will call for killing yet more predators.

Picking apart this unscientific madness is the easy part---all one needs to do is observe the situation and then apply simple logic. The hard part---and the reason the State can get away with claiming phony “subsistence” and “science” as its basis for predator control---is that the average view of hunting prevalent among Alaskan is based on mythology. Last Frontier fantasies die hard. Especially the ones about the noble hunter and living off the land.

But why do hunters---who should know better---fall for the misleading, untruthful statements being made by the State? Because, by now---having been bombarded for so long with the combined propaganda of the State and the commercial, outdoors, motor-sporting establishment---the average Alaskan hunter probably believes that killing wolves and bears is a great thing and will bring back the glory days of shooting moose from the back porch. The average hunter probably believes the State and commercial propaganda that the anti-predator control people want to take away his hunting rights and his guns as well. Certainly it is true---the only way to bring back some semblance of wildlife abundance anywhere within reach of the road network and in remote places like Unimak Island is to slow down the pace of killing wildlife by Humans. Science and common sense dictate a moratorium or restrictions on hunting and trapping over large areas because there is too much pressure on wildlife from Humans. And that right there is why killing predators is such a popular idea---instead of Humans exercising self-control and restraint, the wolves and bears can be blamed for wiping out the wildlife and the average hunter can keep hunting; albeit the hunting is lousy and getting lousier fast.
This is the political conundrum of our times: How do you get confused, misguided individuals to recognize who is really screwing them and or the system; and to recognize their own personal role and responsibilities in having caused the situation in the first place---in this case, the lack of wildlife? How do you get people to question the State and the commercial wildlife extraction interests; to trust the feds more; to trust the critics of predator control more; and to give up some of their most precious illusions and delusions about that land of myths and fantasies known as Alaska?

Given the facts of Unimak Island, it would appear that State Fish and Game is either lying, incompetent or both---which is, of course, the very definition of a system run purely on the basis of corrupt politics and purely for the enrichment of trophy hunting guides and the industrial hunting establishment. So it’s not all madness---it’s profit and pleasure. Which is, of course, a form of madness that fits the general description of an economic system run by the few for the benefit of the few.

- Rudy Wittshirk is a writer who lives in Willow.

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