Attack on wildlife group unfounded, not supported by the facts

Posted: Monday, April 12, 2004

Alaska Board of Game Chair Mike Fleagle's complaints about a newspaper advertisement by Defenders of Wildlife on aerial wolf killing simply don't hold water.

Defenders of Wildlife is a highly credible, science-based national wildlife conservation organization with an office in Anchorage. We pride ourselves on working closely with federal and state agencies on important wildlife issues. When appropriate, we also mobilize the public to respond to scientifically unsound and unethical wildlife management practices.

It's important to refute Fleagle's charges specifically with real facts but it's just as important to note the one fact he didn't challenge. Alaskans have voted, twice, to put a stop to aerial-assisted wolf gunning something that the Legislature, the governor and the Board of Game have all now ignored.

Fleagle claims our ad is part of a national campaign to raise money. But nowhere in the Alaska ad do we ask for money. Instead, the ad is an example of the ways in which we spend money which our members give us to work on issues like this one. The ad gives Alaskans an opportunity to express directly to Gov. Murkowski their opposition to the current wolf-killing program.

Fleagle also alleges that Defenders provided misinformation on the use of helicopters for Alaska's aerial wolf-killing programs. But at their November 2003 meeting, the Board amended regulation 5AAC 92.039, removing "fix-winged" from the definition of aircraft specifically to allow for the use of helicopters.

He says we imply moose calf hunting is occurring si-multaneously in areas where predator control is being implemented. That's simply not true read the ad. What Fleagle won't tell you is that the area where moose calf hunting is happening is the very same area where wolf-control programs have been in place for at least five years, which may explain why moose are now overpopulated there and damaging habitat. Ask any biologist; shooting calves to knock back overpopulated prey is the logical result of an unscientific program to wipe out predators.

Fleagle goes on to say that the Board made a technical correction to a regulation at its recent meeting to provide greater protection for moose calves.

Actually, the language approved by the Board lifts the statewide prohibition on moose calf hunting under regulation 5AAC 92.265. Defenders and others fail to see how removing this prohibition would provide "greater protection for moose calves."

And contrary to Fleagle's assertion, we never said that hunters in Alaska are allowed to harvest female bears accompanied by cubs. We stuck to the facts: The Board of Game approved the killing of bear sows and cubs when they adopted their Bear Conservation and Management Policy by changing the definition of a "legal" bear. The policy also lists the trapping of bears, the use of aircraft to kill bears, the baiting of bears, and the selling of bear parts as additional tools the Board can use to reduce bear populations to increase moose and caribou for hunters.

The facts aren't on the Board's side when it comes to the wolf-killing program's scope and duration, either. The program in Unit 19D-east (the McGrath area where Fleagle resides) has an objective of eliminating all wolves in the area, not reducing them. The Board of Game has greatly expanded the aerial and land-and-shoot wolf-killing programs to include more than 30,000 square miles of Alaska, where up to 500 wolves will be killed. These programs are not "temporary," as claimed, and are expected to last for at least the next four to five years.

Current wolf control plans largely ignore important findings from a comprehensive National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the state of Alaska. Many top scientists from around the nation, including in Alaska, made specific biological recommendations with respect to implementing predator control in the state.

The Board of Game has ignored this study and even ignored the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which opposed some of these programs based upon lack of data or funding. Instead of science, the Board's current programs are based mostly on the long-discredited notion that wiping out all the predators paves the way to easy hunting for humans, with moose as plentiful as feedlot cattle.

Karen Deatherage is Alaska Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage.

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