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Is the Fish and Wildlife Service breaking its own law?

Posted: January 11, 2012 - 9:40am

In 1931, the Alaska Game Commission recommended establishment of a moose sanctuary approximately 1,230 square miles in the northwestern part of the Kenai Peninsula, today known as Game Management Unit 15A. The giant Kenai moose were renowned by hunters in the early 1900s that traveled from various parts of the world in hopes of harvesting one of these magnificent animals. However, by 1925 the moose population had severely declined because of market hunting that lasted until the 1930s. In 1932, 37 citizens of the Kenai Peninsula petitioned the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a moose sanctuary. Residents of the Kenai were divided on the issue, W.J. Brown urged his fellow townspeople to support the creation of the preserve; Mae Harrington spoke for those in opposition. Mrs. Harrington asserted that the present state of no law enforcement would only result in further lawlessness. To address local concerns, the Alaska Game Commission had taken steps to protect moose when issuing hunting regulations in 1932.

The Reorganization Act of 1940 merged the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Service to form the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Ira Gabrielson, Director of Fish and Wildlife, supported a moose refuge at the same time the Army requested to use this area as a bombing practice area. Fortunately, Gabrielson persuaded the Army to select an alternate area. On December 16, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing the Kenai National Moose Range and commissioning the Alaska Game Law to manage hunting and trapping. The Kenai National Moose Range was established to ensure the perpetuation of the giant Kenai moose, other fish and wildlife, scenic and recreational resources. Over the years, the Service fought incessantly to protect the Kenai National Moose Range by formulating tough standards where strong pressures from the oil industry and its allies forced compromises.

By the early 1970s the Alaska National Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was being proposed by congress in several different bills, each outlining a single proposed park or monument. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed ANILCA into law, setting aside 80 million acres of federal public lands, a third of which was secured as wilderness areas. By many, ANILCA was deemed the largest land grab by the Federal Government in recent U.S. history.

The Kenai National Moose Range was assimilated into ANILCA as part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The congressional record repeatedly states "Kenai National Moose Refuge, by the addition of an area containing 203,600 acres of Federal land to the existing Kenai National Moose Range (hereby designated as part of the refuge), which the refuge shall be managed for the following purposes, among others: The purposes of the expansion of the Moose Refuge are to

(A) Perpetuate a nationally significant population of moose;

(B) Protect populations of fish and wildlife and their habitats, including moose and other mammals and waterfowl;

(C) Provide opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation in a manner consistent with the purposes specified in subparagraphs (A) and (B).

The significance of this legislation is the clear intent and purpose congress enacted into law. The FWS has failed to fulfill their legal obligation set forth by our legislators. Currently our moose population, particularly in GMU 15A, is in severe decline. In the early 1980s State Game biologists estimated approximately 4,300 moose in GMU 15A, a similar 2008 census report estimated about 2,000 moose, and undoubtedly decreasing. One of the major reasons for the precipitous decline is a direct result of inaction by the Service, primarily not conducting habitat enhancement (i.e. prescribed burns, crushing or clearing) since 1975. In addition, trappers have been saddled with very restrictive regulations. The KNWR is the only refuge in the state where a four-day trap check is required; it is also the most restrictive refuge regarding regulations for access. All other refuges in our state require less snow depth before the public is allowed access by snowmachines. Now that the moose population is less than half its size compared to 30 years ago, predators are now accelerating the decline. We now have what is called a "predator pit" where regardless of how much of the area's habitat is enhanced; the moose population will not recover until the impact of predation is temporarily reduced, and FWS refuses to allow effective predator control. Studies have shown, to sustain a moose population 30 moose per wolf is needed; this ratio does not factor in the significant impact of bears. Currently, the ratio is less than 30 moose per wolf.

In March 2011, the State of Alaska Board of Game passed an intensive management program in attempt to halt the current decline in the Kenai Moose population. The question Alaskans should be asking is why the Fish and Wildlife Service is refusing to follow the law set forth by congress and the purpose for which the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established? The FWS policies are not perpetuating a significant moose population and by law they are required to.

This statement is not a disparagement towards the dedicated employees of the FWS, but a censure of their policies.

Elaina Spraker is a longtime Soldotna area resident and avid outdoorswoman. Her husband, Ted Spraker, is vice-chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

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orionsbow1 01/12/12 - 01:43 pm
Horse feathers

This article is nothing but horse feathers by minions of ADF&G and the board of game. "Predator pit" is a fallacy. Predator numbers will decline along the same ratio as their prey. You can obliterate the predator population and the moose populations will still decline without the proper habitat. Blaming the feds on poor habitat is not helping the moose in 15A

AKNATUREGUY 01/13/12 - 03:30 am
More Horse Feathers

I don't know much about the Kenai Moose Range or moose biology, but I am thinking orionsbow1 is RIGHT ON!

I do know that Wildlife Biology 101 clearly professes what orionsbow1 states. "You can obliterate the predator population (wolves/bears) and the moose populations will still decline without proper habitat".

From reading about the number of moose killed on the roadways, I am guessing that the real "predator" culprit on the Kenai Peninsula is NOT WOLVES, but vehicles that kill moose in large numbers on the roadways. The decline in suitable habitat is probably also a limiting factor.

As more and more people rapidly move into the Kenai Peninsula, more moose will be killed by vehicles and more habitat will be destroyed. Because of the increased human population, forest fires will probably never again be allowed to burn extensive areas on the Moose Range.

I would be interested to know of any scientific studies conducted by non-Alaska Fish & Game unbiased biologists that show the need for aerial gunning of wolves. It is obvious that the Borad of Game are not unbiased biologists and should not be making these types of decisions without proper scientific evidence. We need to get the politics out of fish & game policy decisions in Alaska.

I find it interesting that Ms Spraker attacks the Kenai Refuge for not promoting more moose habitat and not killing wolves. Since the Refuge is actually owned by all the citizens of the United States, this fact should be taken into consideration. It seems that that the Federal Refuges and Parks in Alaska promote a balanced ecosystem approach to protecting, conserving and promoting wildife conservation for all citizens, not just moose hunters. This is the way it should be.

Wildlife biology 101 clearly states that our natural resources should be managed on an ecosystem basis and healthy predator/prey relationships are normal and important. Wolves are an important part of the Alaskan ecosystem and should not be killed simply to increase the moose population for hunters to kill.

If the Board of Game wants to effectively increase the moose population, they should be studying ways to decrease vehicle collisions with moose. This might be accomplished with fencing along the highwaysd, under/over passes for the moose, etc.

I also find it interesting that Ms Spraker attacks the refuge for requiring traps to be checked on a regular basis; more often than other areas in Alaska. I believe many areas in the Lower 48 require traps to be checked on even a more regular basis.

I was surprised to learn that trappers in Alaska; at least on non-federal lands, are not required to tag their traps with any identification. I found this out while hiking with my dogs in a relatively populated area. Someone had set several traps and snares. A call to the Wildlife Troopers resulted in a "shrug of the shoulders" and a oh hum non-caring attitude that nothing could be done to locate the owners because in Alaska traps are not reuired to be tagged.

Ms Spraker also attacks the Feds because they don't allow snow machines on the refuge until the snow reaches a certain depth. I would think this policy is in use to prevent destruction of the fragile habitat by heavy machines. I don't believe snow machines are allowed at all on most wildlife refuges in the Lower 48.

I think the best thing for Alaska would be to eliminate the Board of Game and get some non-biased wildlife professionals to make important wildife policy decisions. Politics never mixes well with nature!

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