What Do Alaskans Think About Alaskan Policies for Alaska’s Wildlife?: A Poll Revisited

 

A majority of Alaskans place high value on opportunities to experience living watchable wildlife; they implicitly suggest so by results of a statewide telephone poll calling landline and cell phone users. The poll, sponsored by the Humane Society US, was conducted mid 2018 by the Remington Research Group, a leading national Republican polling enterprise. Results are ignored in state Wildlife policy, and implications for those policies must be recognized. The poll was initiated after a proposed federal rule change was made to lower standards of stewardship in Alaska’s national park preserves to the lowest denominator so as to match state hunting regulations and egregious killing practices promulgated by the State of Alaska as permitted on state lands surrounding the park preserves. A race to the bottom.

The questions taken from the proposed changes, and unofficial results:

** Should hibernating black bear sows and cubs be hunted (killed) in their dens using artificial light?: Opposed 71%; Support 22%; Unsure 7% 

** Should dogs be used to pursue and corner bears to shoot them in a hunt? Opposed 69%; Support 26%; Unsure 5%

** Should caribou be hunted while swimming including from powerboats? Opposed 75%; Support 22%; Unsure 3%

** Should trapping and hunting of bears be prohibited using bait stations? Support 60%; Opposed prohibiting (supporting baiting) 34%;  Unsure 6%

** Should bear baiting be allowed? Oppose 50%; Support 39%; Unsure 11%

** Should hunting, killing wolves and coyotes with pups in dens be allowed? Oppose 57%; Support 34%; Unsure 8%

** Should a no kill buffer be established in the Stampede Trail area to protect  Denali National Park wolves? Support 54%; Oppose 37%; Unsure 6% 

The results of this poll must not be dismissed. They are a significant indicator as to the collective Alaska mind. Alaska wildlife policy should reflect majority Alaskan values regarding wildlife, questions about methodology and sponsorship notwithstanding.

The federally proposed changes which initiated this poll are reportedly soon to be published in the Federal Register for a public comment period.  Stay tuned.

What is ANILCA Anyway? Not a Walk in the Park…

We hear and see “ANILCA” used often in news stories about Alaska’s public lands that are in federal ownership and management, but many people do not know what ANILCA is.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act – “ANILCA” of 1980  is in short the single Congressional act that set aside for perpetual national public ownership 104 millions acres, a whole system of new national parks and national park preserves, new wildlife refuges, and new additions to an existing pre ANILCA refuge (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “ANWR”). Existing pre-ANILCA national parks were enlarged (Katmai, Glacier Bay and McKinley, now Denali National Park), and new Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Recreation Areas, all added to the tune of 104 million acres. These are publicly owned national treasures set aside and established in public ownership in perpetuity in what is arguably the most spectacular single piece of conservation legislation ever in the nation’s history.

Priceless habitats and whole intact, unspoiled wildland ecosystems have been legislatively reserved for public ownership, benefit and enjoyment in perpetuity (at least in principle, as these lands are under constant attack by corporate and now the Trump Administration).

Yet today many Alaskans, especially younger Alaskans, don’t have a clue.

Knowledgeable and engaged Alaskans and the nation’s public need know and care to be able to encourage oversight so as to ensure proper stewardship of these gems, especially to ward off numerous incursions proposed by state, federal and corporate vultures.

Even less known by a general public who otherwise may appreciate the ANILCA lands is a spectacular but little known public demonstration by one individual made to publicize and promote the ANILCA legislation, pending then in 1978-79 before Congress. That individual, who remains a true hero spark plug in the active ongoing campaign for Alaska’s public lands and watchable wildlife living on it, is Fairbanks’ Sean McGuire.  In 1978 Sean, in his ANLCA publicity campaign, walked 7,000 miles from the Yukon River to Key West Florida to promote the Congressional passage of ANILCA. This amazing feat of ANILCA support earned Sean a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records including a photograph of his finish nearly a year from his start at the Yukon River. We do not expect such dedication from others, but we expect and need much more public support for the proper stewardship of these wilderness wild land gems by an Alaska public. This is especially true today in a world that is witnessing an unprecedented, horrific extinction of wildlife species, one after another.  Sadly some mainline large environmental but uninvolved organizations with Alaska staffs, and membership are especially noticed here to pay support and get busy.

For Sean had you in mind too when he walked and walked and walked and walked for ANILCA.

 

— Jim K.

The Clock is Ticking on Wildlife and Wild Places

** as seen in the Sierra Borealis: Alaska Report, Sierra Club Alaska Chapter, June 2019 by Susan Hansen**

Without immediate action, more than a million species could face extinction within a few decades, according to a new report by the United Nations.(see endnote).

Keystone species like wolves, grizzly bears and polar bears are on the front lines of this crisis. Without our top predators, whole ecosystems and the endangered animals that depend on them will collapse.

In Yellowstone National Park, wolves were reintro- duced in the 1990s after the last wolf pack in Yellowstone was killed in 1926. With the reintroduction of wolves, the behavior of the herds of elk changed. The elk no longer stayed in one place where they had eaten aspen saplings down to nubbins. Thus the willow and aspen forests returned. Streams returned. And the animals (beavers, fish, frogs and songbirds) who had thrived in these streams and forests returned.

In Alaska, wolves have never been listed under ESA protections. But they have long been persecuted in Alaska through the state’s “predator control” policies, and especially. with the current political appointees by Governor Dunleavy, their future is definitely at risk.

And now, just when we desperately need to go all out to save the planet’s biodiversity, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to wipe out protections for vulnerable species. It has launched an all-out attack on the Endangered Species Act and is gunning to strip protection from gray wolves in the Lower 48.

The Trump Administration via the Department of the Interior and the US Fish & Wildlife Service proposes to remove wolves in the Midwest from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Acting Secretary of Interior, David Bernhardt claims that the gray wolf’s recovery in the Lower 48 is a “great conservation success” (March 2019 NPR).

According to Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, (CBD): “This is not a scientific determination. It’s simply an arbitrary policy choice to ignore how much [potential wolf ] habitat is unoccupied” Currently gray wolves occupy less than ten percent of their historic range. When Europeans first settled in the New World, scientists estimate that two million wolves existed in North America.

US government and state policies on hunting, trapping and poisoning wolves, erased the species from the Lower 48 states by the 1930s. Today approximately 6,000 gray wolves exist in fragmented populations across the West and Great Lakes. The Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico is struggling to exist in very small wild populations. The red wolf which once roamed throughout southeast United State is nearly extinct. (Neither the Mexican gray wolf or the red wolf would be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.)

Gray wolves in the Lower 48 were placed on the ESA list in 1974. In 2011, Congress passed legislation that removed federal gray wolf protections and returned management of the species back to state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington and Oregon, and northern Utah. In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted Wyoming’s wolves from Endangered Species Act protections. If this new Administration proposal to delist wolves passes, the wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Washington and Oregon would lose their ESA protections.

ESA requires recovery of wolves to additional areas in US. The primary purpose of the ESA is to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend (16 U.S.C. 1531(b).) The Act defines an endangered species as any species in danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of its (historic) range (16 U.S.C. 1532(6).) This means that a species cannot be considered recovered until it is no longer endangered in a significant portion of its range. Wolves remain absent or at very low numbers over significant portions of their historic range–including in the Northeast, southern Rocky Mountains, West Coast and elsewhere (“Making Room for Wolf Recovery: The Case for Maintaining Endangered Species Act Protections for American Wolves” by Amaroq Weiss, Noah Greenwald, Curt Bradley, November 2014 CBD, pp 4-5).

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the gray wolf in the Lower 48 currently occupies less than ten percent of its historic range. Thus the current administration’s proposal to delist gray wolves from the ESA protections and

to allow states to fully manage gray wolves jeopardizes the future of existing wolf populations. Small fragmented wolf populations will be subject to genetic inbreeding. Dispersing wolves will find it nearly impossible to make their way to adjacent states to establish new populations. These dispersing wolves are often young two- year-old males who leave the pack in search of a new territory and a mate.

Following the removal of Endangered Species Act protections in several Lower 48 states, some states (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, etc.) enacted aggressive hunting and trapping seasons that resulted in thousands of wolves being killed in a short period of time. Montana just announced 315 recent wolf kills–representing 40 percent of the state’s estimated population of 850 wolves. In South Dakota the state passed a law that classifies wolves as “ varmints” in the eastern half of the state. Thus they can be shot on sight. These examples show that state management of wolves has been a political, rather than a science-based endeavor. Amaroq Weiss of CBD states: “To achieve true long- term, sustainable, recovery of the gray wolf, federal protections should be maintained and recovery plans developed, with the goal of restoring connected, resilient, ecologically effective wolf populations wherever suitable wolf habitat exists…” Highly qualified wildlife biologists and other scientists should lead recovery teams to ensure a scientifically and legally defensible recovery strategy.

WHAT YOU CAN DO?

Send a comment on the proposal to delist gray wolves in the Lower 48 by July 15! Submit comments through the Wolf Conservation Center here.