Predator control, politics, and wildlife conservation in Alaska

  • Van Ballenberghe V
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Abstract

Lethal control programs aimed at reducing wolf (Canis lupus) and bear (Ursus arctos and U. americanus) numbers while attempting to increase densities of moose (Alces alces) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus) for hunters have occurred intermittently in Alaska, USA, for the past 3 decades. These programs were accompanied by considerable controversy, much of it directed at methods of control including helicopter shooting by government employees, snaring, and fixed-wing aircraft shooting by private citizens. From 1976 to 1983, 1,300 wolves were taken in several areas of Alaska by a combination of helicopter shooting and private trapping. Adverse public reaction largely restricted wolf control from 1984-1994 when a snaring program again produced controversy and that control program was terminated. In 1997, a National Research Council review suggested numerous biological standards for Alaska's predator control programs. The review strongly endorsed the approach of conducting predator control as adaptive management. Control proponents sponsored legislation in the 1990s that mandated intensive management of certain depleted populations of ungulates deemed important for consumptive use by humans. The primary management tool to increase such populations is predator control. Intensive management also required setting population and harvest objectives for ungulates. These objectives often were based on historical highs that are now likely unattainable and almost certainly unsustainable. Implementation of intensive management programs involving reductions of black bears and brown bears as well as wolves has now been approved in 5 areas of Alaska totaling about 43,000 square miles with up to 610 wolves scheduled to be shot by April 2005. Approval of additional programs is pending. Controversy now is focused not merely on ethical objections to methods of control, but extends to basic principles of wildlife conservation including sustainability of ungulate populations, protection of habitat integrity for ungulates, and population viability of predators. Recommended biological standards and guidelines for justifying, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating control programs are not being applied

Author-supplied keywords

  • Alaska
  • Alces alces
  • Canis lupus
  • Rangifer tarandus
  • Ursus americanus
  • Ursus arctos
  • bear
  • caribou
  • moose
  • politics
  • predator control
  • wolves

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Authors

  • Victor Van Ballenberghe

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