I suppose it was inevitable that Alaska’s wolf-control proponents would gripe, moan, and loudly whine after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision earlier this month to reject the state’s plan to “remove” several wolves from Unimak Island using aircraft and guns. Wolf (and bear) kill advocates have gotten so used to having their way in recent years, that they can’t handle any sort of setback. So we have state officials and their allies making outlandish statements that, for the most part, have no basis in reality.
I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Department of Fish and Game officials and Board of Game members were “appalled” by the FWS decision. Under Gov. Sean Parnell, state officials are appalled any time “the feds” disagree with them.
Nor was I shocked when the ironically and ill-named Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife-Alaska Chapter sent out a nonsensical alert to its members, with a commentary that included this statement: “By forcing their ‘policy’ of letting nature take it course, the USF&WS has made a mockery of the Environmental Assessment process (a federal law) by pretending to listen to animal rights advocates who apparently don’t think the Unimak caribou and wolves have any rights.” Say what?
Also no surprise, the SFW-AK claims that the FWS decision “was based not sound wildlife management, but was strongly influenced by thousands of pre-programmed email comments from animal rights activists from outside Alaska.”
Hey, if it ain’t the feds, it’s those damn outside animal rights activists interfering with us Alaskans and our sovereign right to slaughter as many wolves and bears as possible, in order to save moose and caribou for us humans to kill. I’m only surprised that the SFW-AK didn’t include the usual “extremists” in its alert.
To be honest, I was quite willing to simply shake my head at the state’s objections and the SFW-AK’s nonsense and quietly savor this rare victory for wolves – and wolf advocates – until I read Paul Jenkins’ piece in the Sunday Daily News, ”Alaska Needs to Stand Up to Feds’ Predator-Control Meddling.” I know that Jenkins (once upon a time my managing editor back at The Anchorage Times) likes to shoot from the hip. But c’mon Paul; you of all people, a journalist by profession and nature, should at least do your homework before attacking those “wolf-coddling federal officials more attuned to what blue-hairs in Connecticut think than the subsistence realities of rural Alaska.”
By the way, I grew up in Connecticut. What’s with the “blue-hairs” reference? A gentle poke at those Friends of Animals extremists?
Perhaps because he depends on propaganda put out by Fish and Game, Jenkins insists that the FWS has egregiously failed – and presumably betrayed – the subsistence-dependent residents of Unimak’s only village, False Pass, because the island’s caribou herd has declined so dramatically. What Jenkins fails to consider, is that the trophy kill of caribou far outnumbered subsistence kills in the years leading up to the hunting closure in 2009. Furthermore (and as I’ve written before) Unimak’s residents most often harvest their caribou from the nearby Alaska Peninsula, not Unimak Island. Finally, the diets of False Pass and other regional communities consist mostly of marine foods. So, my question to Jenkins, Fish and Game, and other wolf-control apologists remains this: Where is the subsistence crisis?
It’s also perhaps worth noting that the lone comment from a Unimak Island resident urged the FWS to take no action. Which it did. That raises another question I have for Jenkins. He writes that “People in the region say they believe subsistence is at the far end of [the FWS’s] list.” Well, that’s easy enough to write. But I’d like to know what people? Similarly, Jenkins later quotes a “knowledgeable observer” who says the feds “will tell you one thing, and do another.” Well who is that? At least give us a hint. Give us some names, Paul, not vague generalities. What happened to that editor who used to bemoan lazy journalism?
Then there’s this: “Alaska manages its fish and game to feed people, the highest, most moral use of the resources.” Sounds pretty darn good, especially because it’s written in the context of subsistence needs. But there’s plenty of evidence that F&G and the Board of Game only support subsistence when it’s in their best interest. Need we be reminded that it's those darn feds that require a subsistence preference, not the state? Much of the feeding that the state does has to do with feeding urban and suburban residents and the big-game guide industry. Again I would point out that the people who have benefited most from the Unimak Caribou Herd in recent years have been guides and their clients. From 2001 to 2008, guided nonresident hunters killed 90 Unimak caribou; subsistence hunters took 12. Hmmmm, what’s wrong with this picture?
Most absurd of all Jenkins’ statements is this: “At stake is Alaska’s ability to carry out scientifically based, targeted, wildlife management . . .” HAH! That is both laughable and pathetic. While wolf-control advocates shout “crisis,” neither the state nor the FWS truly understands what’s been happening on Unimak Island, because no one has conducted any substantial studies of the caribou or wolves or bears. The state is only guessing that wolves have been and continue to be the problem. No one really knows.
And while Jenkins and state officials and the SFW-AK shout down the feds for bowing to the wishes of Connecticut blue-hairs and other outside extremists, in fact the FWS’s EA drew significant comments from many Alaskans, including some of our state’s most respected wildlife scientists, John Schoen and David Klein among them.
In explaining his agency’s choice of “no action,” FWS regional director Geoffrey Haskett noted that while many of the 95,000 responses to its environmental assessment (EA) were form letters, “there were many substantive comments. About half of all substantive comments received stated that the EA was inadequate, insufficient, or failed to make a compelling argument for action and [importantly] provided information to support these opinions. The remaining substantive public comments were divided among remarks regarding the scientific foundations of the proposed action and interpretations of Federal laws, regulations, and policies.” Haskett then summarized the basis of those comments.
I suggest that Jenkins and other FWS critics read the summary on “scientific merit.” A bunch of knowledgeable people who actually did some research and learned the history of Unimak’s caribou found (among other things) “gaps in data, omissions in data, incorrect underlying assumptions, or data not sufficient to support the proposed actions.” Specific examples follow. So much for F&G’s alleged “scientifically based wildlife management.”
As Defenders of Wildlife Alaska representative Theresa Fiorino points out in her Sunday Compass piece (which ran side by side with Jenkins’ rant), “Science May Show that Killing Wolves Is a Big Mistake,” “Scientists recognize that when wolves are killed without an understanding of why – or whether – prey populations are dwindling, we deny ourselves the opportunity to address the root cause of any problem.” And later, “By deciding to study this ecosystem rather than rush to action, FWS has acknowledged the shortcomings of the environmental assessment and has given hope that future decisions regarding wildlife management on Unimak will be grounded in science.”
Like Fiorino, I believe that “when science wins [over politics], we all win – subsistence users, professional guides, conservationists, and last but not least, wildlife.”
I would also add that much like the feds’ EA, the more recent F&G press release response, the SFW-AK’s alert, and Jenkins’ commentary all have “gaps in data, omissions in data, incorrect underlying assumptions, or data not sufficient to support the proposed actions.”
The SFW-AK has urged its members and supports to contact Gov. Parnell and members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation and urge them to hammer the FWS. (Among the group's requests to Rep. Don Young and Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski: that “these Federal agencies be DE-FUNDED until such time as they play by the rules under ANILCA, and stop interfering in Alaksan [sic] wildlife management.”)
I would urge those who oppose the state’s out-of-control wolf (and now bear) kill efforts to contact those same people and applaud the FWS for standing up to Fish and Game and making a rational decision that points out the need for a better understanding of Unimak Island’s caribou, wolves, bears, and the larger ecosystem, rather than the immediate targeting and scapegoating of wolves, an increasingly common strategy of state wildlife managers throughout much of Alaska.
Here’s some contact information:
Governor Parnell’s Chief of Staff: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chad.Padgett@mail.house.gov, Alaska State Director
Pamela.Day@mail.house.gov, Chief of Staff
Erik.Elam@mail.house.gov, Legislative Staff, Resources
Karen_Knutsen@murkowski.senate.gov, Chief of Staff
email@example.com, Alaska State Director
David_Ramseur@begich.senate.gov, Chief of Staff
Susanne_Fleek-Green@begich.state.gov, Alaska State Director