Alaska has a Board of Game problem. Over the past two decades the Board of Game has become increasingly anti-predator. Only nominees who have wolf- and bear-killing attitudes get on the board.
It’s been almost 20 years since there was any semblance of balance on the board. Oh yeah, that was the last time we had a Democratic governor. In general, Republican politicians nominate or confirm only whom many view as wolf-haters. We have now reached the point where there isn’t even a token member who has any conservation, tourism or nonconsumptive user interests. We have a completely undemocratic situation where a relatively small special interest group of hunters and trappers has completely captured a body that Alaska’s framers clearly designed to represent all Alaskans. How is this occurring in a state where 85% of people aren’t hunters and trappers? The Alaska Constitution states that the natural resources belong to all citizens.
The situation with the Denali wolves is a symbol of this ridiculous imbalance.
The Denali wolves are a world-class resource. Denali National Park is the crown jewel of Alaska tourism. Six hundred thousand annual visitors, including tens of thousands of Alaskans, come to see the fabulous natural wonders. And I, as a former longtime bed and breakfast owner, can tell you the three things visitors are most hoping to see: North America’s highest peak, wolves and bears. But, even here, the Board of Game sides with a handful of trappers who want to kill the wolves against the hundreds of thousands of visitors who want to see them alive.
Up until 2010, a small but critical buffer zone protected the bears and wolves in a narrow corridor of state land known as the Stampede Corridor. When the wolves in this 24-mile-long finger of state land that cuts deep into the park were protected, almost half of all visitors saw wolves. But in 2010, the Board of Game in their push to kill wolves and bears not only eliminated the buffer but also allowed wolf killers to place bait right on the park boundary. Yes, this allowed the superstar wildlife to be lured across the boundary line and trapped or gunned down. Two recent surveys show that Alaskans are overwhelmingly opposed to this desecration. Until the buffer was removed, there were two places in the world a person had a good chance to see a wild wolf: Denali and Yellowstone. Now it’s just Yellowstone.
Wolf viewership in Denali National Park began declining almost immediately after the buffer zone was removed and has steadily dropped; this year, just 1% of visitors saw wolves. This is what happens when only a small segment of Alaskans are represented on the Board of Game. They simply don’t care what a large majority of Alaskans want. For many of those years, the board refused to even allow discussion of the issue.
I’m not against hunting, but this extreme assault on wolves and bears is horrifying. Over vast areas of Alaska, the Board of Game has sanctioned the use of snowmachines and semiautomatic assault-style weapons to “harvest” as many as 10 wolves a day per person. (Which does happen.) To me that’s not hunting, it’s slaughter. And there’s not enough space here to even address the helicopter and airplane hunting the board has sanctioned.
I’ve had board members claim that they, as guides, hunters and trappers, can represent all interest groups. Well, we’ve all seen historically that one ideological group with control will not represent all interests.
The attitudes toward wildlife that prevailed during the westward expansion of the U.S. resulted in perhaps the greatest wildlife holocaust in world history. A good case could be made that the members of the current Board of Game have more in common with that era than today’s Alaska.
Sean McGuire lives in Fairbanks.