By Bill Sherwonit
Under Gov. Sean Parnell, the Board of Game and Alaska Department of Fish and Game must be nuts. It’s crazy to order a wolf kill in an area where wolves are not driving moose declines and then hope hunters kill enough moose to keep the rest from starving.
When it comes to killing predators, the state’s current wildlife management regime shows no bounds. Two new pieces of evidence come from the Kenai Peninsula, where the primary target is — no surprise — wolves; but with coyotes and lynx also thrown in for good measure.
It’s hard to say which is the more egregious example; an unnecessary wolf-control program or an effort to open up an area that’s been closed to general hunting and trapping for nearly three decades. Because the latter would occur on federal land and affect more people — and can still be stopped — I’ll start with that.
This past spring, the Alaska Board of Game reneged on an existing compromise agreement, (emphasis on compromise) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in 2007 added a youth-only firearms hunt for small game in what’s known as the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. In pushing for that youth hunt, the state agreed the SWRA would remain off-limits to general hunting and trapping as it has been since 1985, when this specially designated area was established. I will note here that exceptions have long been in place for small-game archery and falconry hunting, plus a permit moose hunt.
Now, in its seemingly infinite desire to find new opportunities to kill predators, the BOG has decided to allow the hunting of wolves, coyotes and lynx within the SWRA. This 45,000-acre piece of land is centered around the Skilak Loop Road and has long been recognized as the one small bit of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where wildlife watching, nature photography and other non-consumptive outdoor activities take precedence.
Many people feel it’s not too small a thing to ask that about two percent of the Kenai Refuge be largely off-limits to hunting and trapping; especially in an area that includes numerous boat launches, nine campgrounds, two public-use cabins, 11 trails and many interpretive sites and viewing areas.
Among those to urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to continue the long-standing ban are the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (or Alaska Friends, for short). Here I will offer some of their comments:
“The (state’s) proposed hunting regulations would have numerous undesirable and disruptive effects that are contrary to the public interest and inconsistent with the current management of the SWRA … (which is) probably the most heavily used area in the refuge, even though it is only two percent of the refuge lands. It contains the 19-mile Skilak Loop Road, which provides access to the area lakes and public-use cabins.”
The Alaska Friends’ testimony then goes on to list the SWRA’s many “features and facilities,” and notes that its public uses include “numerous school groups” and thousands of people who annually participate in environmental education and interpretive programs. Thousands more use the campgrounds, public-use cabins, trails, day-use parking areas and boat launches.
The Friends’ statement continues, “The above information documents the great value of the SWRA and its extensive use by the public. If the state plan to open hunting in this area were to be allowed, it would substantially degrade and conflict with public opportunities for the special and varied types of recreation and education that have been provided for almost 30 years.
“Currently almost two million acres of the Refuge are open to hunting and there are hundreds of miles of roads, trails and snow machine routes in the Refuge that can be accessed by hunters. The SWRA comprises only two percent of the magnificent Kenai NWR that has been developed and managed for education and non-consumptive enjoyment by the general public and school groups. It would be a travesty to jeopardize all of this for the special interests of relatively few hunters who currently have 98 percent of the Refuge available for their consumptive activities.”
The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges ends by urging the FWS to “permanently close any expansion of hunting and trapping.”
To which I will add a loud “AMEN.”
The good news is that the federal government, not the state, has the final say on what activities are allowed there. The FWS has indicated its intent to enact new regulations that continue the general ban on hunting and trapping within the Skilak WRA. Still, the agency has agreed to take public comment before making any final decision. It has already hosted two public meetings. Those who wish to express their views can send written comments by mail to: Refuge Manager, P.O. Box 2139, Soldotna, AK 99669; by fax to 907-262-3599 (attn: Refuge Manager); or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, contact the Refuge at 907-262-7021.
Let refuge managers and other FWS staff know that the state’s over-reach and insatiable appetite for predator killing needs to be stopped. Here’s one good place to take a stand.
The other awful news coming from the Kenai Peninsula is that the Department of Fish and Game, following a BOG directive, will begin a wolf-kill program in Unit 15A (which encompasses the peninsula’s northwestern corner) this coming winter, using a mix of airborne shooting from helicopters and ground trapping. The good news is, it will only be done on state lands, because Kenai National Wildlife Refuge managers won’t allow it.
What is crazy about this effort, beyond widespread public opposition, is that the wolf kill, in the words of Fish and Game assistant area biologist Jason Herreman, “is not going to increase moose populations in 15A,” as it is supposedly intended to do. That’s because moose numbers are limited by habitat, not predation. Herreman told the Peninsula Clarion that the landscape can’t feed any more moose.
The idea, of course, is that the state will be able to liberalize the human kill of moose in 15A, to keep numbers low enough for the available browse. Otherwise, he explained, more of the moose — many of which have already been suffering from malnourishment — would starve.
So, the BOG has ordered a wolf kill in an area where changing habitat, not wolf predation, is the reason for declining moose numbers; and it’s doing so in the hope that subsequent increased human harvest will prevent more moose from starving, no sure thing. Oh and as Herreman also noted, this wolf-kill program will be extremely expensive and “not necessarily the most efficient use of our resources.”
This, of course, is nuts. And it’s further evidence that the BOG and Fish and Game, under Gov. Sean Parnell, are intent on killing wolves (and other predators, now including bears) even where it’s not justified, simply because they can. And no matter the cost.
Bill Sherwonit has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of publications (both traditional and online) and is the author of more than a dozen books, including “Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness” and “Chugach State Park: Alaska’s Accessible Wilderness,” the latter a collaboration with photographer Carl Battreall. He has closely followed and written about Alaska’s wildlife politics since the mid-1980s.
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