« View from the North | Main | Greetings from Alberta »


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Wolf Management in Alaska:


marc moffett

Hi Mark,

Interesting questions! One quick side comment. It is a bit ironic that hunters frequently defend hunting as a necessary means for ungulate population control. As a result, it is quite odd for them to be in a position of defending predator reduction policies geared toward the boosting of ungulate populations to huntable levels! THAT is a very, very small circle.

Regarding predator control generally. I think that there are basically two clearly justifiable reasons for predator control, both related to the relatively developed state of the world. The first, is to minimize human/predator conflicts in areas where predators start expanding into populated areas. The second, is to correct ecosystem imbalances (as, e.g., in the case of predator troughs) which arise from the relatively limited range of natural habitat left on the planet. These both fall into the category of wildlife management.

There is a third issue which I think is important and would be interesting in hearing discussion about. IF you believe (as I do) that hunting is an important activity because it is unique in its ability to allow one to live a more natural, healthy and balanced life, then one might think it is important to sustain huntable populations of ungulates. In this case, it might be defensible to institute predator control policies which make room for this even when the two preceding considerations are not operative. That is, it might be defensible just in case such policies provide the opportunity for hunting. BUT, on this sort of conception of hunting, "combat hunting" would be highly marginal and would not really provide the right sort of connection to the natural world. It seems to me, that rather than pushing for anti-predator policies in order to facilitate high-density hunting opportunities in remenant natural areas, hunters ought instead to be pushing for serious expansion of wilderness preservation.

Adam R Thompson

1) I am a little confused. Does it follow from the fact that the intention of the anti-predator policy promoters is to, in a sense, go to war against the wolves, that those who end up taking on the task of hunting the wolves need have the same 'war-like' intention when carrying out the task? It seems that those carrying out the task could form an intention that keeps them in the correct connection with nature (allegedly necessary for hunting to count as a part of the well-balanced life)while hunting the wolves.

2) I have a further query regarding the argument for 'serious expansion of wilderness'. Why should one be concerned with 'high-density hunting populations'? Putting aside the interest in tourist hunter money that such a high-density hunting population might provide, is there further justification (perhaps some sort of intrinsic value justification) for making an environment such that it is good for high-density hunting populations? It seems that at least part of the essential nature of hunting is that one may return with nothing. Thus, if high-density hunting populations are desirable merely on the basis that it will result in fewer 'empty-handed' hunters, then high-density hunting populations are unjustifiable. I think the above holds if hunting is to remain hunting and not turn into harvesting. Note the example gleemed from Lockwood: If I go to an apple orchard and pay the farmer $5 to pick apples and upon wondering through his orchard I find that all of his apples have already been harvested, then intuitively I have good grounds for complaining and demanding my money back. On the other hand, if I want to search for wild berries and pay a man $5 to walk around on his land in search of wild berries and upon wondering around his property I find no wild berries, then intuitively I have no grounds for complaining and demanding my money back. The latter situation seems to be more in line with what we take hunting to be. So, the point (finally)...If we create 'high-density hunting populations' in order that when we go 'hunting' for 'wild berries' we are more likely to come away with 'wild berries', we have somehow diminished hunting to some form of harvesting. In the first example, we expect the farmer to have apples because that's sort of what he is supposed to do--have apples--, and we expect to come away with apples regardless of our skills of finding apples(hence our grounds for complaint when we do not). In the second example, we might expect there to be wild berries on the man's property because of our skill at recognizing areas where wild berries are likely to grow. But if we come away empty handed, though frustrated, it seems that we just chalk it up to a failed hunt or something like that. So, it does not seem that we can complain to the man to take measures to increase the wild berry population in order that when we come by the next time, we will come away with (or have a much better chance at coming away with) wild berries. Likewise, it does not seem that we can complain to the Alaskan state government to take measures to increase the ungulate population in order that when we come by we will come away with (or have a much better chance at coming away with) a kill.

marc moffett

Mark Richards will probably be able to clarify some of these points better than I, but let me make a few clarificatory remarks to begin with.

First, the way game management work is this: the DOW (division of wildlife) makes an ecological assessment of the sustainable ungulate population of a given area, roughly its carrying capacity. There is a fairly wide range of ungulate populations that fit the bill. We can, for instance, manage the herd in such a way that there are maximal numbers of animals in the area. But we might also manage the herd for overall health (e.g., good bull/cow ratios and significant numbers of mature animals) w/out serious concern for the overall size of the population.

Second, depending on how DOW decides the first issue, they will make some determination about the "harvestable surplus" of animals in the herd; that is, how many and what kinds (bull, mature bull, cow, calf) of tags to make available to hunters based on expected success rates. Within some margin of error, hunters will remove a specified number and type of animals from the herd w/out affecting the DOW's overall target size and/or demographics for the herd over the course of entire year.

Finally, to the extent that hunters and natural predators compete, reducing predator populations means (at least in the eyes of many hunters) that there will be more tags for hunters because there will be a bigger havestable surplus come hunting season (fewer animals having been eaten by lions, and grizzlies and wolves, in the meantime).

So, to recap: there are (at least) two places where DOW can make management decisions which cater specifically to hunter demands (either demands for more tags or greater success). The first is to manage for maximal herd size, irrespective of herd demographics; the second is to manage predators to maximize herd size just prior to hunting season. [And make no mistake, the DOW is under great internal and external pressure to do both of these things.]

Now I think that there are decisive reasons (as articulated by, e.g., Dave Petersen and Valerius Geist) for rejecting the first strategy. Ungulate populations should be managed primarily for demographic structure, not maximal size. (In an important sense, this strategy usually improves hunter success rates because it typically means making most tags cow/calf tags. In such cases, hunters will disproportionately take young/immature animals--the ones most likely to die anyway of other natural causes.)

Unfortunately, DOW agencies all too frequently opt for a maximizing strategy. If you compound this with the anti-predator strategy (and even if you don't in many places in the lower 48), the maximizing strategy leaves us with a huge harvestable surplus. And what does that mean? More tags, more hunters per unit area, and more revenue for DOW!

So that is a thumbnail sketch of game management decisions as I see them. (I should add, however, that the majority of wildlife biologists working for DOW would prefer managing for healthy demographics, but political pressures are frequently too great to resist. Perhaps Mark, who knows a heckuva lot more about this can say something.)

Now, regarding your first point. I think Mark was asking how we felt about the management decisions under considerations. Should we, as hunters, support those decisions or not? Although I think most of us here agree that predator management of some sort is sometimes legit and even necessary, it is far too often initiated for bad reasons. And that seems to be the case in Alaska. My point was simply this. If there is a need to expand hunting opportunities, you can do this by either sticking more animals in the same amount of area (that is what the above policies aim to do) or have the same number of animal per unit area and aim to expand the number of units of area (i.e., conserve/restore more wilderness). For various reasons concerning what I belief constitute the legitimate reasons for hunting, I believe that hunters should favor the latter strategy.

This brings me to your second point. Here is an observation: on balance, an attempt to kill a wild, free ranging animal is more likely to result in wounding/injuring than killing a penned, domesticated animal. There is just simply more uncertainty in the process no matter how conscientious a hunter you are. Period. Since I believe that we are morally required to take animal welfare into consideration when acting, there is then a prima facie reason for thinking that we should prefer to get our meat from the (not-factory-farmed) slaughter house, rather than the woods. So why do I hunt? Well, I believe that if you are a conscientious hunter, you can go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of wounding/maiming game. At the same time, I think that hunting has a value in connecting us with the natural world that cannot be reproduced by any other human activity. (I actually have a post about this that is have written, but haven't had time to finish it.) And if something like that is what underwrites the value or legitimacy of hunting, then it doesn't make sense for hunters to support policies which make hunting less natural (skewed animal and hunter densities). So what I believe is that (assuming meat-eating is morally permissable to begin with), one should either get ones meat from domesticated sources or from sources which are as close to natural as is feasible. The middle ground is simply morally unstable.

Mark Richards

First off, Marc summed up things very well, Adam. As I initially stated, Alaska has statutes that force game managers in our Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation to supply a certain harvestable surplus of ungulates to hunters in specific "Intensive Management" areas. Our IM Law (read more about it here: http://www.alaskabackcountryhunters.org/Intensive%20Management.htm and read the pred-control focus issue too) mandates predator control; that was the reasoning behind this law. Various hunters and hunting orgs (not ours) pushed to tie hunting license fees with RESULTS. Those results are supposed to be more moose and caribou for everyone, because according to IM Law "The highest and best use of most big game populations is to provide for high levels of harvest for human use."

Whether I would go so far as to call this a "war" on wolves (and bears)...well not really. There is a pie of ungulates. In some areas, the allowable human slice of this pie can't be over 5% because bears and wolves (and mother nature) take about 90% of the harvestable surplus. Many hunters feel this is not "fair," and that F&G should allocate more ungulates to hunters. In order to do that, we'd have to either decrease the predator populations or improve habitat with controlled burns (or let wildfires naturally burn). Note that we can't control weather - and that deep snows are a major contributing factor to ungulate mortality in areas where deep-snow winters are prevalent. Also keep in mind we have no programs to 'feed' ungulates as they do elk (for example) in the states in some places.

To what extent game management is game ‘farming’ is open to debate. We have to base decisions on wildlife management on the reality of existing state laws having to do with same. In the case of Alaska, our org believes IM Law is flawed (and so do many bios) because it forces bios and managers into one particular management scheme instead of any adaptive management. “Here – we want X amount of moose. Make it happen.” Regardless of repercussions to habitat, overcrowding, atv abuse, or even the image of hunting and hunters. (For a recent example of a bad program, read this op-ed: http://newsminer.com/2007/04/22/6604) However, it may also be justifiable to “manage” predators as we manage other wildlife – i.e. we set population and harvest objectives, determine carrying capacity, incorporate the importance of all species for ecosystem health etc.

I want to respond to Marc’s initial reply to my post. Good points in the first graph on the irony of the situation. The two justifiable reasons for pred-control make sense. On the face of it of course how we define what a “huntable” population of ungulates is…is the problem. Many would argue, and rightly so, that without predator control in low-density units that we still have “huntable” populations of moose and caribou. Even if the harvestable surplus is only 3% of the estimated population. Others argue that 3-5% does not really constitute their version of a huntable population. More and more draw-only hunts with very low odds of getting a permit, controlled-use areas, lack of cheap easy access to much of the state…has a lot of hunters griping.

I was recently talking to a biologist about all this, and this is the reply I got: If we didn’t have to manage people we wouldn’t have to do anything.

Meaning: human influence of all kinds, whether from hunters, wildlife viewers, habitat loss, sprawl, development etc forces us to manage and conserve our wildlife (all of our wildlife hopefully) in perpetuity. Wildlife management is really about imposing limits and restrictions on hunters, wildlife viewers, and all those other variables. On the face of it, rationally thinking on it…it isn’t unreasonable to manage predators to some degree with “control” methods so as to provide huntable populations of ungulates. It’s all in determining what allocation is both fair to hunters and prudent from a conservation standpoint for the wildlife and the habitat.

We can’t push for more “preservation” of lands up here, and that is a very dirty word among Alaskan hunters. What we can do is push for conservation and stewardship of the public lands still open to hunting, and wise development in future, because much of the state is unroaded and has limited access.

Inre the ethics or morality of hunting vs. killing humanely raised farm animals, I don’t think that the wounding-loss (inhumane) argument inherent in hunting free-ranging wild animals really flies. For the reasons you mentioned as to why you hunt. We need more operations like Joel Sallatin’s that Pollan mentions, more humanely raised animals, more open-air abattoirs, and people taking responsibility again for the lives they consume. I think that’s a good thing. However, I don’t believe that this type of thing connects us to place in the way hunting does; nor does it give us an appreciation for the inherent value of wilderness, wild public lands, and why we need to protect and conserve these lands. We could have many more Sallatin-type humane farms, but we don’t want those to take the place (or be put on a higher rung of ethics/morality) of wild public lands and hunting on those lands.

Anyway, I’ve rambled and got off track. Again, Adam, your view likely is one that certain game management schemes are akin to “farming.” I don’t necessarily disagree with you on some levels. Certainly if we were to kill off wolves and bears in many units that is akin to “growing” moose. Actually, the phrase “grow more moose” is prevalent among many who support pred control efforts. Your analogy of paying the apple farmer to harvest apples, then finding there aren’t any, is a good analogy of how many Alaskan hunters feel. They feel they pay good money for licenses and the F&G Department’s “job” is to provide those animals in reasonable and sustainable numbers (“huntable” populations). Further, since 80% of our F&G budget comes from non-resident hunters, many of whom are looking for a “trophy,” this puts F&G in a rather catch-22 position to supply trophy animals for non-res hunters in quantities to keep them afloat financially. Tough situation, especially when you consider that in areas with especially low caribou and moose densities, non-resident hunters are the first user group to be denied opportunity until the population increases. Right now we’re in the phase of “abundance based management.” That is the new ideal. On the surface, it sounds great, especially if there is an abundance of all wildlife that doesn’t endanger habitat, that isn’t close to maximum carrying capacity. Unfortunately, the “abundance” leans toward ungulate and ovis populations at the expense of wolves and bears.
All for now,

Ty Johnson

Some of you guys (but not all) are forgetting a few very important points.

Point 1: Many rural Alaskans count on moose and caribou meat as a necessary food source. Ya don't like it? Then you can fly them 1 or 2 Angus steers on your own bill. Look up what that costs to get that to Huslia.

Point 2: Wolves eat moose and caribou- lots of moose and caribou. There are lots of wolves in Alaska. Therefore lots and lots of moose and caribou are eaten by wolves. Ask any Elder and he can tell you about wolves driving themselves to starvation and cannibalism in regions. It's all a cycle, that's what scientists can't understand

Point 3: Reducing wolf numbers means more moose and caribou survive and can be counted on as a food source by humans of which there are thousands in rural Alaska. Don't anyone dare tell me that wolves get to eat before I do.

Point 4: Reducing wolves does not mean driving wolves to extinction. Nobody wants that. Wolves are an important symbol in Alaska. There just doesn't need to be as many of them competing for my food. Besides, anyone who honestly knows Alaska knows that wolves couldn't be eradicated. There's too much space and too much habitat and not enough people. Fly over Alaska sometime and see for yourself.

Point 5: Shooting wolves from the air is the most efficient way of removing controllable amounts. It costs very very little to the Alaskan taxpayer. Forget about fair chase, it's a control program, not a weekend hunt. Besides the wolves are just as dead either way. Forget politics, sometimes it comes down to food on the table (not some rich guy from Outside looking for a big adrenalin rush).

Point 6: If you live anywhere but rural Alaska, never, ever tell me wolf control doesn't work. You honestly do not have the right to. Especially if you live in California or New York.

Sports Coaching Courses

Alaska's current predator control programs are clearly not based on sound biological science, nor is there any requirement that sound science must provide the basis for designing, implementing, and monitoring predator control.

Electrician Sydney

It's a difficult plan given the limitations of the available land and where the moose population is in respect to the habitat.

bruce Mackay

I am not up on what the big game and predator situatio is but a lot of people realy are looking for a long battle to protect the land from stupid mistakes in wildlife control. It is understandable considering the trouble they had getting rid of the poison that killed every living coyote in Whyoming.

The comments to this entry are closed.