Wolf Song of Alaska News

 Economic Impacts of Predator Control

Voices from the Flats / The Mudflats / June 10, 2010

Stephen F. Stringham, PhD  
Director, Bear Viewing Association

Reader Comments:  http://www.themudflats.net/2010/06/10/voices-from-the-flats-economic-impact-of-predator-control/

According to estimates by the Bear Viewing Association: At its peak, a few years ago, before intensive predator extermination got into full swing, bear viewing brought at least $50 million per year into Alaska — about half from payments to guides and tour companies, the rest for other transportation, secondary recreational activities, lodging, sporting goods, food, etc.  That’s an awful lot of jobs, business profits, and tax income to jeopardize unnecessarily.

Yet, the Board of Game has done little to protect predators near even the most productive viewing sites such as Wolverine Creek and the region between Katmai National Park and McNeil River Game Sanctuary.  On the contrary, some “hunters” actually target viewing sites and predators so trusting of people that they sleep or nurse babies near viewers.

Worse, the BOG seems determined to wipe out most bears and wolves across the state, irrespective of the ecological, economic, and social impacts of this policy.

Elimination of the buffer zone along Denali is but one more example of what many people see as BOG’s contempt for ecotourists and for the wide range of businesses supported by ecotourism.

BOG statements that buffer elimination was designed to curb opposition by opponents of predator control is like saying that people who protest against someone poking a stick into one of their eyes deserve to have their other eye poked too.

If BOG wants opposition to die down, it might start by listening to opponents, understanding how BOG policies are impacting them, and trying to find ways of meeting those public needs/benefits which do not derive from killing predators.
Among the many changes things needed in Alaska’s predator management program is zoning.  Second is allocation of resources based on various criteria, including number of people benefiting from a resource.

Zones might be allocated on a round-robin basis: Flip a coin to see who chooses first.  Suppose that viewers select one zone.  Hunters/trappers choose the next.  Then viewers again, and so on.

In how much of the state should each use be given priority?  Should this be based on the relative numbers of people who hunt or trap vs. view (obviously, many Alaskans and many tourists do both)?

Suppose that there were equal numbers of people hunting/trapping and viewing.  Should we allocate half the state to each?  Probably not, since the same bears or wolves can be viewed again and again by thousands or tens of thousands of people, whereas an animal can be killed only once.  Off hand, I don’t know what ratio would be best.  But I suspect that nearly all viewing needs could be met in just a few percent of the state, if viewers were given first choice of areas to be zoned with viewing as the primary use.

As we Alaskans are fond of saying, America isn’t a simple democracy where majority rules; it is a republic-democracy where even a majority cannot override the rights of any minority.   We claim that this republic spirit is nowhere stronger than in Alaska.  Yet, in practice, far too much Alaskan politics takes the sledgehammer approach by packing committees with a majority of advocates for one extreme position, then crushing anyone with different needs or ideas.  This fosters the kind of divisiveness which is tearing this state and this nation apart.  If dividing an enemy is the key to conquering it, how can dividing ourselves against ourselves benefit anyone but our enemies, domestic or foreign?

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