Commentary

Predatory double standards

Screen shot 2016-08-04 at 8.05.28 PM.pngThe federal government used tax payer dollars to kill tens of thousand of coyotes (which we now know are little more than skinny wolves) along with hundreds of bears and full-grown wolves last year, but decided Thursday that such predator control practices are simply not acceptable in a big chunk of the country’s 49th state even if provided free by Alaska and Alaskans.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service declared 73 million acres of Alaska off-limits to predator control. Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe went online at the Huffington Post to blog about it, claiming the late American folk hero Woody Guthrie would be proud.

“Woody Guthrie captured something essential about our nation when he penned the classic American song, “This Land is Your Land” more than 75 years ago,” Ashe wrote. “He understood that one of America’s best ideas – and one of our defining values – was the decision to set aside some of our most wildlife-rich lands and waters for permanent protection for the benefit of all Americans.

“Sadly, as it was in Woody’s day, this treasured American value is under assault.”

Ashe somehow sees a difference between what Alaska allows to happen at no expense to federal taxpayers on wild lands in the north and what the federal government pays agents of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to do on wild and semi-wild lands in the lower 48 states.

APHIS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported killing almost 69,000 coyotes, nearly 400 wolves, and 480 bears last year. The death toll in Alaska didn’t even come close, which is not to say that there haven’t been abuses of the state’s so-called “intensive management” program.

There are plenty of wildlife biologists in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who have questioned the use of predator control in situations in which habitat – not predators – appears to be the limiting factor on prey populations.

Ecology is not a black-and-white science. There are a lot of greys. Killing predators has been shown to increase prey in some cases and not in others. In the worst case scenario, predator control has been shown to boost prey to levels at which they over-use their habitat leading to a population crash from which it can take a long time to recover.

State management is by no means perfect.

And state biologists have sometimes been timid about speaking out on predator control programs they believe flawed. They say they fear for their jobs. It’s easy to empathize. Cowardice is a prevailing human trait.

As a result, there is no doubt the sort of open and wide-ranging debate that should influence the state Board of Game on predator control practices is lacking.

But there is also no longer any doubt that predator control can sometimes be a useful tool  for increasing wildlife populations in Alaska.

The question is not whether it works, as Alaska biologists Rod Boertje and others observed in a 2010 paper published in the “Journal of Wildlife Management,”  but “what society should value.”

Ashe made the societal call for the Fish and Wildlife Service and stuck his thumb in the eye of Alaskans in the process by blasting the state’s “shortsighted policies designed to benefit the few.”

This group was further defined as  “a few people who would call themselves hunters.”

There is no doubt that hunters in Alaska sometimes benefit from increased populations of moose, caribou and Dall sheep due to predator control. Others, however, also benefit. Moose, caribou and Dall sheep are among the most viewed wildlife in Alaska.

It is hard, if not impossible, to grow predator populations to levels that make them easily viewed, although 40 years of the state managing salmon to record and near-record levels has boosted bear populations to numbers that make those animals easier for visitors to find and view.

At the same time, salmon-boosted grizzly populations and, in some cases, wolf populations, have increased predation on moose and caribou calves. There have been documented cases of bears managing to kill nearly all moose calves in some parts of the state in some years.

The situation is not nearly so simple as Ashe portrays  in claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to “emphasize sound, long-term land and wildlife stewardship for the current and future benefit of all . They will ensure that all wildlife – including predators – gets a fair shake on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges, for which Congress has assigned us primary authority. The state of Alaska’s predator control programs may be in line with its state mandates and programs, but they cannot be reconciled with the federal laws that guide us.”

The main problem with that statement is simply that nature isn’t “fair.” Never has been; never will be. Nature is a place where everyday the strong kill the weak or the simply unlucky. The workings of nature are blood and death. Nature is war.

Human politics, on the other hand, are power and money.

The federal government ever year kills tens of thousands of predators, predominately in the West, because monied ranching and farming interests have political power there. It opposes killing predators in Alaska because environmental organizations, which have made Alaska a focus of fund-raising for decades, hold power in the north.

The animals don’t care either way. Their world is a world where death is natural. They are all going to die sooner or later.

As you read this, it’s a given a young caribou or moose is dying at the fangs and claws of a bear or wolf, and a young wolf is starving because not enough moose and caribou are dying, and a cute cuddly bear cub is dying because the stream mom decided to cross was bigger than he could swim or because mom wandered into the path of a male bear who decided killing cubs would bring the sow into estrus again.

This is Alaska.

None of Alaska, however, enters the discussion of a decision that is simple to urban America.

“Feds to Alaska: Stop killing bears and wolves our on our land,” headlined the Washington Post.

“…There’s a booming ecotourism business in Alaska, and people go to these parks and refuges because they want to see the animals,” the Post’s Karen Brulliard quoted Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States saying. “When you shoot them…you diminish the numbers of animals and the experiences of people who trek to Alaska to have the thrill of a lifetime.”

Oh if only it were so simple.

Alaska’s past response to this sort of thinking has been to flail away at the faraway power making decisions as the Post noted in citing “former Alaska governor Sarah Palin: gunning down wildlife from helicopters.”

The state response so far this time appears to be to do nothing, which has stirred the ire of some.

“Fish and Wildlife came on top of the 20 million acres already taken by the U.S. Park Service just a few months ago. In October, the Park Service overrode Alaska regulations pertaining to fish, wildlife and, specifically, to predator control. The Bureau of Land Management jumped in on the action and took yet another million acres in the Fortymile Area last month,” wrote Suzanne Downing at MustReadAlaska.com.

“Nearly 100 million acres gone from state management in six months. The state of Alaska has fought this in the past because comprehensive management of fish and game is, quite clearly in law, a state right promised by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

“But in 2016, the state seems to have lost its will to fight the federal government on just about anything.”

The last statement may or may not be true, but it is clear that Alaska – a state which was born in large part on the desire to wrest fisheries management from the hands of territorial overlords – has over the pas 30 years ceded more and more fish and wildlife management authority to a federal bureaucracy which has one view of Alaska and another view of the other 49 states.

Maybe Alaska tourism could at least get some benefit out of this with a new marketing program.

Visit Alaska: America’s biggest national park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 replies »

  1. I hope someday soon the feds manage all wildlife in Alaska. I say this not based on opinions of hunting or tourism. And I’m one that believes the less federal involvement with our lives the better. But the reason feds should manage Alaska wildlife and not the state is because of the self-serving, third-world mentality, moronic, redneck, inbred fucktards that consistently sit on the BoG and BoF. Ask any 80-90 year old Alaskan outdoorsman/woman who has witnesses the changes in game populations over their many years. Every decision these boards make is the wrong decision, and a decision that harms Alaska. And they have been making bad decisions for too many decades. Bring on the feds. Are they better? Maybe. Maybe not. Time for the state to get out of businesses they know nothing about, like building LNG pipelines and managing wildlife.

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    • the problem with that thinking is that those 80-90 year old Alaskans would have been here through the heyday of the fed’s war on Alaska predators. they killed them with a vengeance, even using poison, and artificially boosted prey numbers. it was the heyday of big game hunting in the 49th state. the Alaska BoG, in the heady climate of Earth Days when all us ecologists thought all predation compensatory, put an end to what the feds have been doing. now the feds want to go back to non-management management which is the polar opposite of what they did the last time they were in charge. it’s as bad as what they did the first time they were in charge. the BOG is fraught with problems, but there’s no reason to believe the feds would do better. they managed Alaska fisheries right into the ditch.

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  2. Predator control by state or federal government is arbitrary and biased. If you want true wilderness, keep your hands off and stay out of it. Anything else is a zoo.

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    • A lot of Alaskans want animals to eat and don’t need the whole state to be wilderness. Some of these refuges were established to assure subsistence hunting opportunities – this seizure of management and imposition of passive (non) management will leave many of those residents without huntable populations, and basically dependent even more on Govt hand-outs. Its already happened on Unimak Island.

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      • Hi Dan, please read my comment carefully. I specifically commented on predator control, not subsistence hunting. Show me one scientific study that shows how predator control leads in the long run to sustainable increases in moose or caribou!

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    • Lack of predator control on Unimak Is had lead to severely depressed caribou populations and NO hunting subsistence or otherwise. For many years people were able to hunt caribou there sustainably. Wolves moved in and severely reduced the herd. An out of control low level FWS totally stopped a scientifically designed predator control effort fully within the Fed and State management policies yet now a few years later – folks down there still cannot hunt.

      For years there were populations that could sustain hunting and some predators in the Cold Bay area. The herd did grow too much, then the predators came in and the whole caribou population declined severely for quite a while. Granted there may have been overgrazing too. But as range conditions improved the herd did not, as wolves kept the population depressed and subsistence and sport hunting was suspended – for how long I don’t recall. . A carefully run control program was conducted a few years ago designed to just protect the newborn calves for their critical early month. The herd has grown and I believe very limited hunting has been slowly restored. I believe the hunting has been slightly liberalized again this fall – so Nelson Lagoon, Cold Bay, King Cove and Sand Point folks have a chance to get some meat.

      Check out the facts with ADFG on these herds and history. Since the 1950’s, I believe the caribou were generally in a sustained level until the mid 80s when wolves moved in in a big way – I was there. I heard the complaints and saw the herd decline precipitously.

      Note too, in the 80’s the Feds insisted on removing cows from several islands near Sand Point – a common source of meat for Sand Point and King Cove. So Fed shot all the cows and then blocked some predator control for caribou- subsistence needs of the locals be damned. This latest Rule will screw the subsistence user all while the Feds try to pose as the “Subsistence Saviors” to bush Alaska.

      Sustained subsistence and sport hunting in AK will depend on some active management and not on passive “non-management” which historically results in stable but extremely low abundance of food animals – usually too low to allow ANY harvest – including subsistence – the people MOST dependent on those resources.

      Take a look at the North Alaska Peninsula caribou & moose herds. Now granted its not just a predator problem, possibly a range condition problem but that hasn’t been fully verified either for caribou. What was learned there tho, is that the strong salmon escapements seem to sustain larger wolf populations than would be expected – as the fish are available to young wolves in the critical late fall period where they need to gain size and strength to take large prey. Without those fish there would likely be much fewer wolves. At any rate subsistence and sport harvests have been prohibited for caribou for over 20 years. For the first time I think this fall some limited hunting may be allowed. Its likely the herd would have rebounded earlier if the Feds would have allowed some predator control -like the Bristol Bay Fed. Subsistence Advisory Council requested for many many years (as well as State Advisory Committees) – and the Feds refused. In the mean time people in Naknek / King Salmon, Egegik, Pilot Point, Ugashik and Pt Heiden, Chigniks have been severely restricted and even closed for a very long time – when salmon fishing incomes declined and subsistence needs were great.

      If you care to investigate, I believe that ADFG has found some key techniques to do effective, scientific predator control. Taking a pack or 2 of wolves off key calving grounds gives caribou calves the chance to survive for that first month of life and sustain or even grow a severely depressed herd.

      Watch the news this next week. I suspect the State will be providing their responses to this stealth release by the Feds. I’m hearing thru the grapevine that the State became aware of the final rule less than an hour before it hit the streets. Yet the predictable anti control groups released comments and complete editorials within an hour. Coincidence? They are that fast to compose lengthy commentaries? I suspect the cheering section had advance copies of the rule before the Feds even bothered to inform the State. The Feds are using propaganda and not science nor respecting the statehood act in this move.

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  3. How common or ethical is it for a top federal official to write an opinion piece in a private news service then provide a link to that piece on an official federal website? I find it very strange and highly unprofessional. Was the comment offered to other news outlets?

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