Debate requires common vocabulary, courtesy

Voices of the Peninsula

I would like to respond to Mr. John Toppenberg's opinion piece from the Clarion's Jan. 23 edition. As an active member of one of the Peninsula's Fish and Game advisory committees, I have been very involved with the recent issues surrounding predator control. I recognize that this is a very controversial issue, with opposing opinions about as far apart on a spectrum as they can be. As an elected member of my community, I make it a point to listen to public comment and try to understand all perspectives, educate myself about the issues, and whenever possible, disseminate information and try to educate others about what I've learned. I consider this a position of service to my community, as it is completely voluntary, and I enjoy learning about the process as well as the issues.


The basic foundation of our process for addressing fish and game issues at the state and local levels is grounded in an ethic of mutual respect. Regardless of where someone stands on an issue, individuals have a right to their opinion and to express it. What is sometimes overlooked however, are the simple rules of etiquette, decorum, and/or common courtesy.

I was rather disappointed in a couple of Mr. Toppenberg's comments that were in contrast to these basic tenets. On two occasions, he called Mr. Spraker's (and by connection Mrs. Spraker's) integrity into question. Likewise, he criticized the Board of Game for having "zero diversity" and using an "anti-science" approach.

To engage in this type of name calling criticism and character assassination is extremely inappropriate and unprofessional, and certainly not something one would expect from the director of a state-wide organization that claims to represent others to "promote the integrity, beauty, and stability of Alaska's ecosystems" (as taken from his website).

Since we are on the topic, with regard to the often cited purpose of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge-KNWR (as referenced by both Mrs. Spraker and Mr. Toppenberg), (i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity ..., I would like to draw attention to the term "conserve." Conservation, by definition, involves supervision and management of natural resources in order to preserve them. Management, on the other hand, involves handling or directing the affairs of a business, institution, etc. The two terms (conservation and management) are often used incorrectly, and although they go hand-in-hand when it comes to wildlife issues, they are not interchangeable. The bottom line is that conservation often requires management. It is the state's responsibility to manage the wildlife resources according to our state constitution (for maximum sustained yield, and for the maximum benefit of the people), and in accordance with basic conservation principles. The KNWR has the directive to ensure that those conservation principles are adhered to on their lands.

What many fail to realize, is that the recent predator control proposals were created to manage our declining moose population (it's not about wolves). Reducing numbers of wolves is just part of that management plan. The KNWR and other opposing groups can and should take a conservation stance to ensure that none of the naturally occurring species are wiped out. However, the state has already addressed that issue. With regard to wolves, Proposals 35 and 36 list specific trigger points, related to minimum wolf populations, that would halt the project immediately. That is a conservation measure taken for the wolves.

I can live with the fact that the KNWR and other groups want to make sure that we don't remove too many wolves, as they are indeed one of our most incredible wildlife resources, but they also need to cooperate with the state's management plan by allowing access so that it can be carried out. The whole "natural diversity" argument for the refuge involves substituting the word "conserve" with "manage," which is both incorrect and inappropriate. They, and others, can be conservation minded without doing any management (or preventing it).

In the end, many of us will have to agree to disagree, and that's OK. I respect everyone's opinion and their right to express it. I would just ask that in discussing our opposing views, that we use a common vocabulary that is clearly defined, and continue to utilize a public process that involves individuals, agencies, and groups addressing each other in a polite and respectful manner.

Bob Ermold is a Sterling resident and member of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee.


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