Is the Fish and Wildlife Service breaking its own law?

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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