New wildlife management plan includes wildlife viewing

Posted: Monday, October 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new strategic plan for the state Department of Fish and Game calls for increased emphasis on wildlife viewing, education and management of animals not sought as game.

The plan says the Division of Wildlife Conservation should continue to focus its traditional efforts on game animals that are hunted and trapped, but should expand its work in nontraditional areas.

''It is a change,'' said Doug Larsen, deputy director of the agency.

The change was spurred by funding. Two years ago Congress began giving states money to expand nontraditional wildlife management programs, he said.

Alaska has received $6.4 million over the past two years, part of which funded the new strategic plan, Larsen said. Work on the plan started 18 months ago, but the Division of Wildlife Conservation had already seen the need to start shifting its focus, Larsen said.

Nationwide, an increasing number of people say they enjoy watching wildlife. They are traveling to do it and spending money for special equipment. A recent study by the U.S. Department of the Interior shows that Americans spent more on wildlife watching in 2001 than in 1996, while expenditures for fishing and hunting declined. The number of wildlife watchers also rose during the same period, while hunting and fishing participation fell.

That changing demographic appears to have spurred Congress to increase funding for wildlife watching, education and nongame management, Larsen said.

The Division of Wildlife Conservation has programs in watchable wildlife, such as brown bear viewing at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. The new funding will allow the state to provide more opportunities, and the strategic plan sets that out as a goal.

Money also will be spent on education, including helping teachers with wildlife-based curriculum and putting more information on the Internet.

More attention will also be placed on the birds and animals that aren't considered game species.

''This allows us to look broader, at ecosystems,'' rather than focus on a single species of concern, such as moose or caribou, Larsen said.

Though the 28-page strategic plan took 18 months to draft, the division is giving the public just two weeks to comment on it. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 1.

Larsen said the short notice reflects the public input already received. While developing the plan, the division sought input from 2,000 individuals and groups with an interest in Alaska wildlife and hosted a working group that helped focus the plan further, he said.

''We would've liked to have more time at the end (for public comment), but we're hoping to have it out and finalized by December,'' Larsen said.

The next governor could toss out the plan altogether, he acknowledged. But because of the public involvement to date, he added, the plan's authors hope the next administration ''would see that it's well thought out and should be supported and carried forward.''

Alaska Outdoor Council executive director Jesse VanderZanden said he hadn't had enough time to develop any opinions other than that more time is needed to comment. He also wants to be sure that the state is spending the federal funding as Congress intended. -

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