Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:25 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Democracy v. Board of Game: Wolves get a reprieve

By hal shepherd

Wolves just outside of Homer, at least temporarily, have been given a break. You may recall that, last winter, the Alaska Board of Game out did even its past politics-over-science decisions when it authorized aerial hunting of wolves, allegedly to increase the harvestable moose population in two game units outside Homer. This flies in the face of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's admissions that the real problem with moose numbers was habitat, not predation.

A call to the Homer Fish and Game Office, however, revealed that that the hunt has been postponed until next fall. Although, there is no official explanation for the delay, Fish and Game has begun a two-year study of the number and survival of moose calves in both management units in order to further study the relationship of habitat to reduced moose populations in the units.

It is important to recognize that while the wolf hunt has merely been temporarily postponed, overwhelming public pressure, in favor of the wolves, is working. This is best shown by a split that seems to be developing between the Board of Game and the Department of Fish and Game, which appears, at least, to be listening to mounting skepticism about the fact that not just backwards science, but no science at all is being used to rationalize the hunt.

It would appear, therefore, that grassroots effort is the only part of the Alaska government that is still functioning properly when it comes to game management. Consider the Board of Game's recent decision to approve a brown bear snaring proposal in game unit 16B, a 900-square-mile area west of Anchorage. Even though according to at least one board member, moose habitat in the area is "satisfactory," the Board of Game concludes that snaring of bears is "necessary" to increase moose numbers.

Worse, snared bears can remain in the trap for up to three days (and probably longer when hunters ignore the rules) without food or water before they are ultimately shot along with any cubs who just happen to be lingering around a snared sow.

Why the Board of Game still authorizes such brutal and backwards methods of predator control decades after most wildlife experts have agreed that predators are a necessary component of ecosystem health, can only be explained by an archaic game management strategy that focuses on destroying as many predators as possible to increase game harvests.

While proponents of the Board of Game's approach to predator control point to a need to increase moose for subsistence hunting, there is a noticeable lack of discussion that, in many cases, (including unit 16B) out of state hunters are still allowed to take moose.

That Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature have put special interests, including the trophy hunting industry before sound science is illustrated by the fact that the Board of Game is made up entirely of hunting and trapping interests. Disregarding an Alaska Statute that provides "members of the Board of Game shall be appointed on the basis of interest in public affairs, good judgment, knowledge, and ability in the field of action of the board, and with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view in the membership."

Gov. Parnell's latest appointee to the Board of Game, however, was the former chairman of the Southcentral chapter of the Alaska Trappers Association. As a registered guide and outfitter, he has extensive experience as a professional hunter, trapper and fisherman. Lest one is under the impression that we can still rely on the Alaska courts, so far the courts have ignored state law and pleas for fair and impartial representation of the general public on the board.

Predator control and game management in Alaska is, therefore, a shining example of the time honored ritual, in which the common citizen steps forward to do the job of our elected and appointed representatives. It is up to us to demand bureaucratic accountability and scientifically based decision making to protect both predators and pray from Alaska game management practices.

Hal Shepherd is a consultant focusing on human rights and water issues in Homer.