In an ongoing battle about game management in Alaska, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten made the right move in standing by the state’s existing system of predator control. Although the philosophical argument about how best to manage game in the state likely will go on for decades and changes may well be made in that time, the case for major changes to state management is not compelling at this juncture.
Alaskans who are invested in game management are not all of similar mind on whether the state’s current intensive management plan is the best way to maintain wildlife stocks and preserve diversity. Many of those opposed to current management practices wrote as much in a letter seeking the end to some aspects of wolf control on state lands and the establishment of an independent council that would review the practices of intensive management and their efficacy.
Chief among the suggestions the letter made that Commissioner Cotten declined to implement was the establishment of a 5-mile zone around federal lands where game management rules are different. Given the differences in management schemes on federal and state lands, there have been management conflicts at the borders between units. But an expansion of federal management authority five miles from the existing border of federal lands would greatly curtail the state’s ability to manage game on its own lands. As Commissioner Cotten pointed out in his response earlier this month, federal lands already make up more than 60 percent of Alaska’s land area. Pushing out those federal borders 5 miles in all directions for the purposes of game management would be a massive cession of authority to federal practices.
And while the state should continue to look at its management practices and their effects to ensure Alaska is doing its job providing for healthy wildlife populations, the notion that a body reviewing intensive management shouldn’t contain state biologists is problematic. Scientists from the Department of Fish and Game are some of the best-informed authorities on Alaska game issues; to suggest they couldn’t take part in a reasoned discussion of game management practices is similar to suggesting that current teachers shouldn’t be allowed to take part in a review of Alaska’s education system.
Commissioner Cotten was also right to be doubtful of wolf sterilization and relocation as a compromise between current techniques and an end to intensive management. Utilized during Gov. Tony Knowles’ administration, the practice was expensive and accomplished the same ultimate end as shooting the wolves would have. Moving wolves or sterilizing them may soothe our conscience by avoiding the direct killing of an apex predator, but if the end result is the same, all we’ve done is spend more money to kill a wolf. We shouldn’t pretend we’re being kinder by adopting different methods.
Intensive management of predators to maintain stable game populations isn’t always pretty, but it has been effective and has provided for a sustainable harvest of the large game for which Alaska is known. Commissioner Cotten is justified in standing by it.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Oct. 31