FAIRBANKS — Most Alaskans want to believe their state wildlife agencies — the Board of Game and Alaska Department of Fish and Game — care about the well-being of all Alaska’s iconic wildlife.
I also think most Alaskans at least hope that the game board and Fish and Game care about the opinions of all Alaskans. Unfortunately, the goodwill that is so vital for these agencies to function well has been eroding.
Over the last several decades, mostly Republican politicians have systematically inserted their chosen anti-wolf and bear members on the game board. This stacking has reached a point where the only segment of Alaska’s population being represented is a subset of hunters and trappers essentially represented by the Alaska Outdoor Council. This kind of monopoly on the game board, or any board for that matter, inevitably leads to extreme and absurd decisions.
Many people have become aware of the ongoing and scandalous situation in Denali National Park where the game board has continued to sanction the baiting of wolves and bears just outside park boundaries to be shot or trapped. These iconic animals are a source of great pride for Alaskans and a world-class resource, fueling an economic bonanza. Millions, even billions, of dollars pour into the state in large part because people want to see the nation’s last wild charismatic mega-fauna. This treasure and our reputation are being damaged, sacrificed, for a handful of individuals making a few hundred bucks a pelt.
Meanwhile, the state’s long assault on wolves has taken another disturbing turn. After spending decades pitching the concept of using science to justify their industrial scale Fortymile wolf-killing program, Fish and Game’s own longtime biologists released a peer-reviewed report indicating that the killing of over 1,000 wolves has had little or no effect on the health of the Fortymile Caribou Herd. The assumption, of course, is that this finding would end the program. But guess what? Fish and Game has decided to continue the aerial wolf killing, science be damned.
On Aug. 17, more than 50 residents (and a few dogs) gathered at Fish and Game’s Fairbanks office to protest the decision. Fish and Game’s Bruce Dale stated on Channel 13 news that the wolf killing benefited the community, in part because the agency donates wolf skulls to the schools for educational purposes. Yep, he really said that. He also said Fish and Game is going to continue killing wolves to compare “mild” versus intensive wolf killing. In other words, they want to keep chasing down these highly intelligent animals with aircraft as an experiment.
You have to wonder if Mr. Dale thinks schoolchildren or their teachers would support the shooting of wolves from the air just so a wolf skull might sit on a classroom shelf. More likely they would be horrified. Moreover, though Mr. Dale might be oblivious to it, the actual educational opportunity for a teacher would be to explain to the kids why wolf families are being blasted from the air when the scientific purpose of the program is now acknowledged to be erroneous.
Also of educational interest, perhaps at the high school level, is this: Each skull costs the state $37,384. Fish and Game says hunters’ license fees are helping to pay for this. But students will see through this weak defense, noting the exorbitant expenditure of public money to fund a program that is both socially revolting and scientifically ineffectual.
Many of us who have followed this issue for years believe that Fish and Game’s wolf-killing policy is being driven by both the complete capture of the game board by the Alaska Outdoor Council and their cronies and the bureaucratic inertia that comes with decades of bear and wolf killing. The agency has a protocol they call adaptive management. It seems what they actually mean is, if their original justifications don’t fit, they adapt new explanations to get the results they want. Because even when their own biologists say its time to stop — they’ve killed more than 1,000 wolves — they can’t.
I believe any honest opinion poll will show a large majority of Alaskans would like to put an end to these predator-killing debacles. Gov. Bill Walker, you’ve been in office for three years. These embarrassing policies are happening on your watch. You’re running for re-election. This is not a hard fix. It’s time to act.