Published: March 14, 2004
In Alaska, the wolf wars have taken a sobering turn for the worse. For 30 years hunting lobbyists have campaigned for what is euphemistically called wolf "control." Thanks to the compliance of Gov. Frank Murkowski and the state's official game board, the legal protections for Alaska's 7,000 to 9,000 wolves have been seriously eroded. In nearly 20,000 square miles of the state it is now legal for private citizens to shoot wolves from airplanes and helicopters. In one district the limit has been increased from 10 wolves a year to 10 wolves a day.
In these districts, the new regulations call for an 80 percent "temporary" reduction in the wolf population. But a reduction on that scale is merely likely to be the first step towards the total elimination of wolves. This isn't sport hunting — there's nothing sporting about deploying an air force to hunt animals. The real spirit of hunting has always been about working within the balance of nature. But not in Alaska.
There is already a hunting and trapping season for Alaskan wolves, and some 7,500 wolves have been legally killed in the past five years. But hunters want more moose meat on the table, and the state has promised them unnaturally high numbers. Instead of setting sustainable limits for the moose hunt, the game board has decided simply to kill the animals that prey on moose — wolves and bears. According to the game board, "moose are important for providing high levels of harvest for human consumptive use." In other words, moose are important, wolves are not.
Wildlife biologists disagree, and so do most Alaskans, who have voted against aerial shooting twice, in 1996 and 2000. But now the extremists have taken over. Any notion that wolves and moose are part of a functioning ecosystem has been abandoned. The hunting lobby demands that moose be managed as livestock destined for harvesting by hunters — the more the merrier, with anything that gets in the way destined for destruction. In Alaska, wolves are now merely competitors seizing valuable human resources.
Elsewhere in this country, biologists have devoted themselves to protecting and restoring wolf populations. Most Americans have welcomed wolves' return not only as symbols of wildness but as critical players in the pattern of nature, helping balance the population of deer and elk. Anyone who has visited Yellowstone since wolves were reintroduced has a vivid sense of their role in the ecosystem and in the human imagination. But in Alaska the age-old war on wolves has resumed with all its age-old savagery — the savagery of humans, that is.