USFWS isn't breaking its own rules

Voices of the Peninsula

On Jan. 11, Elaina Spraker, argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was ignoring their mandates under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to protect moose on in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

So, is the Fish and Wildlife Service breaking its own law?
In a word, no.

While Mrs. Spraker obviously has an opinion on this issue, she certainly doesn't have her facts straight. Considering the very relevant fact that Mrs. Spraker is the wife of Vice Chair of the Board of Game (Board) Ted Spraker, it makes one question whether certain Board members really have the capacity to objectively evaluate proposals 35 and 36, which would institute aerial wolf gunning on the peninsula. I would argue that they don't.

I would like to take the opportunity to clarify a few of the more glaring of Mrs. Spraker's, and we assume her husband's, misrepresentations and misunderstandings.

First, Mrs. Spraker rightly states that The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was created under ANILCA and incorporated the former lands of the Kenai National Moose Range. However, this is where her understanding of the facts regarding the refuge deteriorates.

Mrs. Spraker contends that the congressional record states that the purposes of the expansion of the Moose Refuge were 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).

I can't speak to whether these purposes are part of the congressional record or not, but in truth it doesn't really matter because the congressional record is not the law. According to the law, among other purposes not relevant to this issue, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established:

(i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity including, but not limited to, moose, bears, mountain goats, Dall sheep, wolves and other furbearers, salmonoids and other fish, waterfowl and other migratory and nonmigratory birds;

(v) to provide, in a manner compatible with these purposes, opportunities for fish and wildlife-oriented recreation.

Perpetuating a nationally significant population of moose doesn't even make the list let alone appear as a primary purpose. Further, Mrs. Spraker conveniently fails to point out that wolves are among those mammals the refuge is mandated to conserve.  She also fails to mention that the refuge is mandated to conserve these mammals, including wolves, in their "natural diversity."

Contrary to Mrs. Spraker's premise that FWS is "failing to fulfill their legal obligations" under ANILCA by not allowing predator control or managing solely for moose populations within the refuge, FWS is actually adhering to their legal mandates by working to conserve all wildlife populations in their natural diversity. Incidentally ANILCA is but one of the federal laws to which the FWS is legally bound, others include the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act and the Wilderness Act. Both of these laws would also dictate the Refuge disallow intensive management within its boundaries.

Not only does Mrs. Spraker misinterpret FWS' obligations she - and we assume her husband - also fails in her analysis of the moose decline; blaming it on FWS' inaction and restrictions.

Putting aside the fact that the refuge is not bound to single species management as Mrs. Spraker would have you believe, the main reason why habitat isn't what it once was in 15A is time. It's been 40 + years since the last major wildfire swept across the Kenai and created all of that excellent but fleeting moose habitat. Nothing will bring it back until another large scale - and potentially catastrophic - wildfire sweeps the landscape. By the way, the Board is well aware that FWS is open to managing backcountry fire on the refuge to improve moose habitat.

Mrs. Spraker also laments the numerous regulations "trappers have been saddled with" in the refuge. Well, I have news for you Mrs. Spraker; trappers aren't the only ones who use the refuge. Kenai Refuge is probably the most visited refuge in Alaska; as such it faces numerous challenges relating to managing recreational use. Without strict regulations, the refuge would quickly be faced with resource damage issues as well as user conflicts. Again, if we go back to ANILCA, the refuge is following their mandates by ensuring recreation is consistent with conservation of wildlife resources.

The final example of Mrs. Spraker's confusion of the issue is her claim that moose in the refuge are in a "predator pit." Gordon Haber, who was a good friend of mine, coined the term predator pit and from his description, 15A is anything but. Rather, habitat pit might be the more appropriate term. I'm not the only one who sees it this way. Not once has there been a single public mention of a predator pit on the Kenai, not even from the Board. However, I don't doubt Mrs. Spraker has heard it in her own home and therein I see a problem.

Mrs. Spraker's husband recently voted with the zero diversity BOG to actually go ahead with the anti-science airborne Kenai wolf kill. If he can so easily misrepresent what is happening on the Kenai, what does this mean for the quality of his decision-making on this issue?

Again, let's clear the record for those who may have been confused by Mrs. Spraker's difficulty portraying the facts. Predators are not the cause of the moose population decline in 15A. There is no evidence that if habitat were improved moose numbers would remain at low levels. And FWS is not legally mandated to allow the state to move forward with an ill-conceived plan within their boundaries.

So, in response to Mrs. Spraker' s question: 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 answer is simple, they're not. The only failure they can be accused of at this point is failing to succumb to pressure of those pressing an agenda that they are not mandated to follow; killing wolves for no justifiable reason. Well done FWS.

John Toppenberg has been director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance for about seven years. He lives in Sterling.

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