Study: Alaska Mismanaging Predator Control

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A new study from Oregon State University suggests Alaska’s wildlife officials are mismanaging programs to control predators such as bears and wolves.

Here’s a little more from Oregon TV station KTVZ: 

“Gray wolves, brown bears and black bears are managed in most of Alaska in ways designed to significantly lower their numbers,” said study co-author William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “Alaska is unique in the world because these management priorities are both widespread and legally mandated.”

The paper notes that favoritism toward moose, caribou and deer over large carnivores acquired legal backing in Alaska with the 1994 passage of the state’s Intensive Management Law. The legislation effectively calls for cutbacks in big carnivores to increase how many hoofed game animals are taken by humans.

“The law does also identify habitat management as a form of intensive management, but habitat management hasn’t been used effectively as a tool to increase abundance of these ungulates,” said corresponding author Sterling Miller, a retired research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Therefore, the default tool is predator control, the most widespread form of which is liberalizing state hunting and trapping regulations for large carnivores. This liberalization has been most extreme for brown bears, as this species used to be managed very conservatively.”

Here’s a passage from OSU’s study:

Science-based management of large carnivores in most of Alaska will require the political will and wisdom to repeal Alaska’s Intensive Management law. Alternatively or additionally, it will require professional wildlife managers to resist adoption of predator reduction regulations that are not conducted as experiments and/or do not include adequate monitoring programs of both carnivores and ungulates; this was a key recommendation in the 1997 report of National Research Council [5]. Furthermore, in Alaska and other states, the U.S. Department of the Interior needs to meet its legal mandate to manage for natural and healthy ecosystems in ways that are in the national interest. In Alaska, this will require not aligning hunting and trapping regulations on National Park Preserves and National Wildlife Refuges with state regulations that are designed to reduce naturally occurring densities of large carnivores. The state of Alaska also should be candid with the public about the absence of science supporting the efficacy of predator control programs to achieve established objectives with regard to ungulate harvests instead of making unsupported claims of “success” for wolf reduction efforts in publicly distributed booklets about Intensive Management (e.g., [15]). For bears, there are not even any claimed successes for increased harvests of adult moose or caribou resulting from increased bear harvests [3]. Appointments by the Alaska Governor to the Alaska Board of Game, which sets Alaska hunting regulations, should include members who recognize the importance and value of large carnivores both to ecosystem function [2] as well as to the state’s economy and wildlife viewing enthusiasts [16]. Mechanisms and funding must be in place to ensure science-based management that includes adequate monitoring and research of predator–prey relationships and trends [3,5,17]. Information campaigns and other grass roots efforts by concerned citizens and nongovernmental organizations are likely needed to remedy current unsound management practices for large carnivores in Alaska.