Bill SherwonitStep by step, the Alaska Board of Game and Department of Fish and Game continue to expand their predator-kill efforts. And because they’ve done so in a cunningly incremental way, with sanitized language, our state’s wildlife managers and policy makers have successfully packaged a predator-kill program that only a few years ago would have been considered outrageously extreme.
What else can you call a program that now includes the killing of wolves during their denning and pup-rearing season; the gassing of wolf pups in dens; the use of private pilots and gunners to kill wolves from planes; the use of both state personnel and “agents of the state” to shoot wolves from helicopters; the trapping of bears; the killing of black bear sows with cubs and the cubs themselves, in some places while they’re still denning; the reclassification of black bears as a “furbearing species”; the sale of black and brown/grizzly bear parts (excluding gall bladders) for “handicraft items”; the sale of black bear meat; and the “incidental” trapping of brown and grizzly bears.
This last practice is no doubt a prelude to targeted trapping of the species. In fact new regulations proposed by Fish and Game make it clear, “It is the department’s intent to use trapping as a management tool for black bears AND GRIZZLY BEARS [my emphasis] where hunting is not sufficiently effective to achieve population management goals.”
State wildlife managers would like residents to believe that such “control” methods (control itself being a wonderfully sanitized concept) are to be used sparingly, in circumstances where predators have reduced ungulate populations (primarily moose and caribou, but also deer, Dall sheep, and now musk oxen) to unusually low levels. In fact, predator control now includes increasingly liberal hunting and trapping regulations on more and more state-owned lands, with those regulations put in place by “developing innovative ways of increasing bear [and wolf] harvests if conventional hunting seasons and bag limits are not effective” in reducing predator numbers to what the state believes are warranted.
Ah, there’s the rub. The state has moved beyond traditional predator-control programs to “innovatively” set the stage for increased predator-kill efforts through simple regulatory changes. Ain’t that sweet.
The Board of Game will consider – and, no doubt, approve – new policy documents for both bears and wolves at a special meeting scheduled for Oct. 8-12 in Anchorage (at the Coast International Inn), along with new “Bear Trapping Recommendations and Proposed Regulations.” News of this agenda has some people in a fit, because of the sneaky way it has happened.
Among those to criticize the state is Mark Richards, a longtime hunter and trapper who also co-chairs the Alaska Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In a Sept. 20 Compass piece for the Daily News, Richards lamented, “I certainly didn’t think that the board and department would arrange for such an important and controversial matter [the expanded trapping of bears] to be heard and decided upon at a short meeting out of the regular schedule that was only supposed to be about Nelchina caribou hunting permit allocation issues.”
Richards is joined in his criticism by Wade Willis, also a longtime hunter (and former Fish and Game biologist) who has founded what he calls the “Science Now Project!” Among Willis’s many complaints: when the BOG put out a call for proposals, it did not notify Alaskans that bear baiting and trapping would be considered at the October meeting, nor has the board allowed the public to submit any bear baiting/trapping proposals. In fact when Richards submitted such a proposal, it was rejected “on the grounds that the call for proposals for this meeting was ‘specific’ to only Nelchina caribou allocation issues.”
In short, the state seems to be using a double standard. Fish and Game can submit its own bear-harvest proposal, but the public is prohibited from doing so. Apparently the public is allowed to comment on the agency’s proposal – and presumably the new “BOG Bear Conservation, Harvest, and Management Policy” document too – but given what’s happened so far, you have to wonder how seriously any public comment will be considered. So, the deck seems stacked. But that’s nothing new with the BOG, as it has operated under the current (and two prior) administrations.
Willis protests that public notice laws have not been followed and he’s encouraging similarly unhappy residents to contact both the Board of Game and members of Gov. Parnell’s administration, to protest the way this whole thing has been handled. Among his main points (which I happen to agree with, which is why I’m repeating them here), Willis argues that (among other things):
-- the BOG has failed to follow public-notice laws;
-- contrary to the Alaska Legislature’s intention when it established the BOG, the public is not being given proper opportunity to fully participate in the process:
“The public is at a significant disadvantage on this issue. The Board and the ADF&G are using an Agenda Change Request to deny resident Alaskans the opportunity to submit proposals on this [bear baiting/trapping] issue. A clear violation of the intent of the Alaska Legislature when they established the Board of Game process.”
If moved by any of this, Willis encourages residents to fax comments to the BOG at 267-2489 in Anchorage – they must be received by 5 p.m. this Thursday (Sept. 30) to be included in the BOG’s packet of materials – and/or send emails to Gov. Parnell’s chief of staff, Mike Nizich (email@example.com) or his director of boards and commissions, Jason Hooley, (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Of course Alaskans are invited to attend the Board of Game meeting (Oct. 8-12 at Anchorage’s Coast International Inn) and testify or at least witness the board’s actions. It should be quite a show. It always is.
Those who are curious to know more about the state’s intentions toward bears (and wolves) before the meeting can check out the proposals that will be deliberated in October, especially pages 46-71.
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