Friday, March 17, 2006

Alaska Game Board chides Feds on predator control

By TIM MOWRY - Staff Writer

The Alaska Board of Game took aim at federal officials on Thursday by lambasting a high-ranking U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official for the federal government's lack of participation in the state's predator control program. Members of the six-person board took turns peppering Gary Edwards, deputy regional director for Fish and Wildlife in Alaska, with questions about why federal agencies haven't allowed predator control on federal lands in rural Alaska, where residents say there aren't enough moose or caribou.

"What we continually get from the federal government is, 'We want to be exempt from predator control on federal lands,' and yet it's at the core of your responsibilities, which is to provide for subsistence," board member Ron Sommerville of Juneau told Edwards. "Unless you bite the bullet and get out and help us in some areas, we can do very little."

The Game Board is in the middle of an 11-day meeting in Fairbanks to make changes to hunting and trapping regulations throughout the Interior. The board will begin taking up proposals dealing with Tok, Delta Junction and Fairbanks today. One of the major issues at the meeting is predator control, although the Game Board voted Wednesday to delay any action on predator control until a special meeting in May.

Edwards and Pete Probasco, deputy assistant director for the federal Office of Subsistence, were in town to address the Game Board's decision to withdraw from an agreement established between the state Game and Fish boards and the Federal Subsistence Board to work cooperatively managing Alaska's subsistence resources.

The Game Board voted at a January meeting in Anchorage to give the federal government a 60-day notice it planned to pull out of the agreement. While acknowledging the bar for predator control on federal lands in Alaska is set "fairly high," Edwards said federal agencies don't necessarily oppose the killing of bears and wolves on its land. At the same time, he said it would be "a big leap" to think predator control on a national wildlife refuge in Alaska would occur any time soon.

If and when that does occur, the decision likely won't be made in Alaska, Edwards said. "Once we go down the predator control route, that's something that's going to be discussed on a national level," said Edwards, who is also the Fish and Wildlife Service's representative on the Federal Subsistence Board.

In the last three years, the state has instituted aerial wolf-control programs on state land in five areas amounting to less than 5 percent of the state. More than 550 wolves have been killed as a result.

Federal agencies, however, have balked at allowing predator control on adjacent federal lands. Noting that the federal government owns more than 60 percent of Alaska, much of it in rural areas, board member Dick Burley of Fairbanks said federal officials are riding on the state's predator control coattails.

"I'm not going to sit here and say we want every wolf and bear killed in Alaska, but there comes a time when you have any resource, that if you're going to provide opportunities for subsistence needs, you need to manage it," Burley said. "You can't go along for the ride hoping the state has enough animals to provide for subsistence. The state of Alaska is getting a black eye for trying to implement predator control when the federal government should be helping us."

Federal officials' reluctance to go along with predator control has hamstrung the state's program in some instances, Sommerville said. "We had to tell the people in the Yukon Flats they can use snowmachines (to hunt wolves) but not to go on federal public lands when they're surrounded by federal public lands," he said.

The situation is much the same in Game Management Unit 19 in the central Kuskokwim, bordered by national wildlife refuges. "We're authorizing some of these predator control programs with one hand tied behind our back and standing on one leg," Sommerville said.

At the federal level, Edwards said the individual land managers are responsible for dealing with predator control issues, not the Federal Subsistence Board. While officials would be more than willing to talk to the Game Board regarding predator control, Edwards didn't make any promises or offer much hope. He did encourage the Game Board to reconsider its withdrawal from the memorandum of agreement between the three boards.

"I don't think you solve things by walking away from the table," he said. "You solve things by working at it and hammering it out."

The Game Board spent most of Thursday dealing with proposals pertaining to the McGrath and Galena areas. The board:

* Created a Tier II moose hunt in Unit 19A and closed hunting for moose in another part of the unit due to a significant decline in moose numbers. The board also revoked a registration permit hunt for any antlered bull in Unit 19B and left antler restrictions in place for residents.

* Created a new permit hunt for moose in all of Unit 21D.

* Allowed the use of snowmachines to hunt wolves in Units 21 and 24.

* Increased the bag limit on wolves from five to 10 a season in Units 21 and 24.

The Game Board also voted to prohibit the use of lead shot for any bird hunting in Unit 26 on the North Slope. The proposal was submitted by the North Slope Borough Fish and Game Management Committee for fear that lead shot used for hunting upland game birds could be having an effect on sensitive waterfowl populations such as spectacled eiders.

Although it has been illegal for several years to use lead shot for waterfowl hunting, this is the first area in the state where lead shot is prohibited for upland bird hunting.

  • Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

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