Community Perspective

Alaska watchable wildlife is an economic building block

Wayne Heimer’s recent piece, “The Usual Suspects Again on Denali Wolves Plan” (News-Miner, Sunday, Jan. 19), contains incorrect information. Most importantly, this exercise also raises important questions. Lest his notions be taken as real stuff, the piece should be critically viewed in our post-fact society. It merits a look at a few of his notions of wildlife management in Alaska.

Mr. Heimer’s claim that the Alaska Board of Game serves the Alaska public well is not supportable. A regulatory board, made up of seven hunters and trappers, establishes policy for the Department of Fish and Game and sets hunting and trapping regulations for the taking of wildlife through a process in which it meets annually and considers residents’ and department proposals for regulatory change. The game board has an earned reputation that it exclusively serves hunters’ and trappers’ interests while proposals made to it that require no hunting or trapping get little to no attention and are usually denied if considered.

A 2016 survey of game board actions (Mitchell and Brandel) reveals in a 20-year period that the board received more than 200 nonconsumptive resident proposals. Many of these proposals likely came from some of the 80% of Alaskans who do not own a hunting or trapping license. Over those years, eight were adopted, about 174 were considered but not adopted and 40 were not even considered.

The Alaska Board of Game does not serve the Alaska general populace. It is a minority serving a minority while stiffing the rest of Alaska. Its refusals in recent years to take action proposed to it by Alaska citizens to protect Denali National Park wolves that stray out of park bounds, a measure preferred by a majority of Alaskans expressed in a recent statewide survey, is a clear case in point.

Mr. Heimer writes that the game board is doing what Article VIII of our Alaska Constitution asks: to manage for sustained yield specifically for the taking by hunters and trappers.

He conveniently skips Article VIII language that clearly states the resources of Alaska belong not to a certain few but to all Alaskans. In noting regulatory practices that routinely serve one segment of our population while denying proposals of another segment as outlined here, there clearly is a real problem of equal representation by a board that does not act as a true public function. Making a greater case, the Department of Fish and Game in 2011 contracted this study: “The Economic Importance of Wildlife in 2011” (Econorth, published 2014). Here, an extensively peer-reviewed economic analysis concludes that the economic benefit from non-hunting viewing of wildlife is nearly double that from hunting.

Now is a time to switch from Alaska’s outdated policy and adopt an enlightened approach that manages for a sustained yield of our spectacular living, watchable Alaska wildlife as a building block to our economy. Mr. Heimer, an asleep Legislature and whoever is in the governor’s office must awake to the clear realities and possibilities of this century and take leadership to bring this change about.

Jim Kowalsky is a Fairbanks resident, a 50-year wildlife activist and chairs Alaskans for Wildlife.

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