The Alaska Board of Game’s recent meeting in Fairbanks didn’t get much coverage here in Anchorage, at least that I could tell, so locals may be wondering what happened up there. In short, the BOG conspired with the Department of Fish and Game to further expand its war on wolves and bears.
I will write more about this at some future time, but here I’ll present a summary of what actions the board took as part of its growing “predation control” effort. (As an aside, I’m not sure when or why the state decided to rename its programs “predation control,” but I assume wildlife officials believe Alaskans won’t be as upset if we imagine that what the state is trying to do is “control” the act of predation, rather than kill increasingly large numbers of predators, i.e. wolves and bears, so that humans can in turn kill more moose and caribou. The idea has always been to sanitize these killings as much as possible.)
Though of late I’ve been focused on the brutal act of bear snaring, we must not overlook wolves. And way up north in the Koyukuk River drainage, the BOG has authorized an effort to “reduce wolves to the lowest level possible.” Hmmm. Doesn’t that mean the intent is to EXTERMINATE wolves from the 1,360-square-mile predation-control area? The state often insists it doesn’t want to eliminate wolves (or bears) from parts of the state, only to control the numbers. But this sure looks like an extermination program, continuing the trend of ever bolder, ever-more extreme steps to rid certain parts of Alaska from wolves and/or bears. To improve the odds, the state will allow both ground-based and aerial attacks, using staff and, if necessary, members of the public. And of course when the wolf-kill effort fails to produce the desired results—more moose meat for people to consume—you can bet the state will start to target bears.
Speaking of bears, the BOG voted unanimously to NOT allow the snaring and shooting of black bears as a general trapping method in several parts of Interior Alaska, a decision no doubt inspired by the recent furor over bear snaring. Of course it left room to change its collective (and one-track) mind at some future date. While some of us bear advocates were ready to applaud such a reasonable decision, any applause was muted because of other actions the board took.
For openers, the BOG voted 4-3 to allow the baiting of brown/grizzly bears in parts of Alaska, as a general hunting practice. For the first time in state history (someone correct me if I’m wrong), both residents and non-residents will be allowed to kill grizzlies at bait stations. Bear baiting has long been a controversial practice, even when targeting “only” black bears, but now the BOG has decided this is also an appropriate way to kill grizzlies, all in the name of saving moose calves, of course. This action was so extreme that the vote was a close one, and that’s saying something for this group.
Then, to top things off, the board voted to kill ALL the bears in a 540-square mile area of the middle Kuskokwim River region. Shooting from helicopters, state employees will try to kill as many as 160 black bears and 15 or so grizzlies. Sure, it’s unlikely every last bear will be gunned down. But that’s the stated goal. Of course the board again acted unanimously; this BOG has virtually no diversity when it comes to wildlife-management perspectives and strategies. Its credo: bears and wolves are bad, moose and caribou are good (at least in steak form). Again, what we have here is an EXTERMINATION PROGRAM. The goal isn’t lower numbers of bears, it is NO BEARS. And we’re not talking about a small plot of land; 540 square miles translates into 345,600 acres. To put that in perspective, Anchorage’s backyard wilderness, Chugach State Park—the third largest state park in the nation—is about 495,000 acres. So the extermination zone is more than two-thirds the size of Chugach Park. Imagine such a place, such a large area, without any bears at all. Pretty sad. Of course the goal is more moose for people. It’s just about always more moose for people these days. Moose have become Alaska’s sacred cow.
For many years, a number of us wildlife activists have charged the state with trying to create a giant wild-game farm. State wildlife officials and certain so-called “sportsmen’s” groups (notably the Alaska Outdoor Council and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Alaska Chapter) have pooh-poohed such charges as extremist nonsense. But now we see that this is indeed the state’s intent, at least for parts of Alaska: areas without wild and natural predators, so that more moose can be “grown.”
It’s radical, it’s awful, it’s outrageous, and it’s expanding. We Alaskans need to fight what’s happening. And we need to hold Gov. Sean Parnell accountable for the most extreme—and corrupt—wildlife-management regime in state history.