What others say: Alaskans should care about Cecil the Lion

  • Wednesday, August 19, 2015 8:40pm
  • Opinion

You didn’t care about Cecil the Lion two months ago. If you haven’t changed your mind, you should.

Not because of the lion itself, but because of what its death means.

The 13-year-old animal was a star attraction for Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and its death at the hands of an American dentist who paid $50,000 for a hunt has spilled a pot of Internet outrage. The outrage has since congealed into obscurity the same way Kony 2012 and other ephemeral memes have, but it has had real effects.

Many airlines, including Delta, United and American wavered in the face of public pressure and banned the carriage of most African hunting trophies on their airplanes.

This will have little immediate effect — most hunters use expediting services and cargo airlines, not passenger jets, to carry their prizes — but we worry about the future.

Will airlines forbid you from carrying the Dall sheep you took in the Brooks Range? What about the mountain goat you took on Kodiak Island?

You may well have harvested the meat from those hunts, but under the rules of these airlines, you might be barred from carrying the hide or horns home. For now, the airlines’ bans extend to species hunted in Africa. Several have said they are looking at a wider prohibition.

Fortunately, Alaska Airlines hasn’t changed its policy. Hunters will still be able to travel in the 49th state without undue interference.

Most Alaska hunters aren’t seeking species like the dentist targeted by the Internet mob. They’re after food for the freezer, and that’s an admirable practice. According to figures from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, residents bought 87 percent of the hunting licenses sold in this state.

Look at the number of “big game” tags — the ones needed for trophy hunts — and you see the reverse. Seventy percent were sold to nonresidents.

Those nonresidents paid for the privilege: $500 or $650 for a grizzly bear tag, $425 or $550 for a sheep tag, and $225 or $300 for a black bear tag.

Those figures add up. In 2014, fees paid by nonresidents accounted for 82 percent of the state’s tag and license receipts.

Those receipts paid for game management and administration, and as the state slashes its budget, programs that pay for themselves are a good thing to have.

Residents enjoyed most of the hunting. Nonresidents paid most of the bills.

That’s why we worry when we see the outrage over Cecil. It may be a passing event, but its effect isn’t passing. We may declaim trophy hunting and shooting animals for sport, but we cannot deny its effect in Alaska. It pays the bills.

If Cecil’s death leads to a decline in trophy hunting in Alaska, all hunting will suffer.

— Juneau Empire, Aug. 13

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