Wolf Song of Alaska News

State Needs to Assert Itself on Predators

Aaron Bloomquist / Compass / Anchorage Daily News / June 7, 2010

Reader Comments:  http://www.adn.com/2010/06/07/1312075/state-needs-to-assert-itself-on.html

"Dueling wildlife management mandates" seems to be the new buzz phrase from state and federal wildlife management agencies. We have heard this term over the last few months when Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) abundance management and federal, mainly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service(NPS), custodial management conflict. Indeed their missions are different:

• ADF&G mission: "To protect, maintain, and improve the fish, game, and aquatic plant resources of the state, and manage their use and development in the best interest of the economy and the well-being of the people of the state, consistent with the sustained yield principle."

• USFWS mission: "Working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."

• NPS mission: "To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

The NPS mission is built around the word "unimpaired." This mandate has been used for a century to manage wildlife, nearly exclusively, through the protection of natural animal behavior and habitat. USFWS, although far closer to ADF&G in mission, has also adopted this hands-off management. Language in the ADF&G mission like "improve, use, game, development, economy, and yield" requires the harvest of Alaska's wildlife for human benefit. Since the reintroduction of predator management around McGrath in 2003 the state has begun to take this mandate seriously, diverging from the "study and restrict" management of past decades.

Widespread aerial wolf hunting by the public ceased in 1972 with the passage of the Federal Airborne Hunting Act. From that point on, aerial take of predators for the benefit of moose and caribou was deemed predator control. For three decades the state management of wildlife adapted more and more to resemble the NPS system. Throughout the '70s and '80s predator management continued at a decreasing rate through public land-and-shoot wolf harvest and ADF&G wolf control programs.
The passage of ANILCA in 1980 made Alaska home to more than two-thirds of the nation's national parks and closed tens of millions of acres to hunting by nearly all Alaskans. With the vast changes in Alaska land management came changing game management philosophies. ADF&G was shifting focus from high ungulate population densities for human consumption to low density equilibriums regulated mostly by predation and natural mortality.

By the early '90s Alaska's wolf wars had reached their peak. Predator management was reduced to traditional ground-based methods, even ADF&G staffed predator control was conducted via traditional trapping. In 1994 the Legislature passed the Intensive Management Law defining the best use of game populations as for high levels of harvest for human use. Gov. Hickel signed the law. Ironically, this same year Gov. Knowles, after his inauguration, suspended all lethal predator control. The transformation was complete.

ADF&G's primary focus had become monitoring the decline of Alaska's ungulate populations so they could provide data to the Board of Game to properly restrict hunters and trappers. This strategy persisted for the ensuing decade.

In 2002 after decades of declining moose numbers, the direction of ADF&G started to shift back to their mandate. In 2003 the first predator management program came back to Alaska and others have followed. Overwhelming success in restoring high game populations has generated interest in nearly every corner of Alaska. Most communities in moose country that don't already have Intensive Management Programs have requested them. Many of these requests have been granted and others are pending.

Fortunately for Alaska, the federal government does not own a single terrestrial animal in Alaska. After many years, ADF&G and the Board of Game have diverged from the preservationist policies of the federal managers. This trend will likely continue as Alaskans demand that the state assert its authority to manage, even on federal lands. As the Last Frontier's "management duel" continues, hopefully ADF&G's best shot puts more meat on Alaska's tables.

- Aaron Bloomquist is a guide and chairman of the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

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