Survey after survey has told us that when it comes to the management of our wildlife Alaskans want a Board of Game comprised of people representing a broad range of values to be in charge.
They want people willing to serve who fairly and directly represent the various uses of wildlife, including an Alaska Native cultural perspective, subsistence, sport hunting, trophy hunting, viewing, photography and tourism.
For more than a quarter century only those with a strong hunting or trapping background have been permitted to sit on the Board of Game. While at one time it was very different, 75 percent of Alaskans today who are eligible to have either a hunting or trapping license, do not own one.
This does not mean that Alaskans have lost interest in wildlife. Far from it. According to the 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey on fishing, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation, more than a half million wildlife viewers in Alaska spent $499 million on their activities, exceeding the amount spent by hunters and trappers by more than two to one.
Alaska is the top state in the union when it comes to wildlife viewers per capita.
The new appointments to the Board of Game announced last week represent none of these interests. They are all staunch supporters of hunting and trapping with little recognition of other wildlife values as being important.
They are out of step with the increasing number of entrepreneurs, many with strong hunting backgrounds, who do recognize the value in respecting the quite different needs of hunters and wildlife viewers, and capitalizing on both. The secret to success for the most part is not mixing the two.
Hunter needs are met mostly by ensuring that there are sufficient animals present to sustain a viable harvest over the long term. While the focus may vary from an emphasis on meat to a selection for certain cohorts such as sex, age, curl size or antler dimension, success is always measured in terms of numbers of animals taken, and is equal or greater, but never less, than the total number of successful hunters.
Wildlife viewer needs are satisfied differently. Success is measured in terms of fulfilled viewing opportunities.
It doesn't really matter if wildlife viewers see the same eagle, moose or whale as somebody else. Two Denali wolf packs currently numbering about 14 individuals, for example, provide about 20,000 visitor sightings a year, and account for most of the documented wolf sightings statewide.
How are the requirements of both interests to be recognized if only one end of the spectrum is represented on the only board responsible for making all wildlife decisions on state land?
There are other reasons for wildlife viewers and hunters to be at the same table working together. One of the biggest issues expressed at numerous Board of Game meetings is the increasing competition between rural and urban hunters for the same resource as the numbers of all of us keep rising.
Recognizing that thousands of people can see a moose, while only one person can shoot it, would it not be prudent to be encouraging as many people as possible to become wildlife viewers, so that those that want to hunt can experience less competition?
Instead what we are likely to see with the current new list of Board of Game appointees is a tipping of the balance of nature toward the highly unpopular wolf and bear killing programs of yesteryear along with an attempt to maximize moose and caribou numbers beyond what many biologists would regard as sustainable levels.
Dr. Paul Joslin is a conservation biologist for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in Anchorage.
he can be reached at email@example.com.
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