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Predator Control and Management: Past and Present

HISTORY OF PREDATOR CONTROL IN ALASKA

Predator control and management in Alaska probably began when humans first crossed over the Bering land bridge from Asia into North America. Early management activities are described in stories that have been transmitted orally through the generations. Life in the Arctic was harsh, and starvation was not uncommon. Survival depended on available prey and hunting success. Great importance was attached to the accuracy of the essential features of those stories because they encapsulated much of what had been learned about the arctic environment and how to survive and prosper in it.

Predator Management Before European Contact

The indigenous Athabascan Indians—the Koyukon, Ingalik, Tanana, Kutchin, Tanaina, Ahtena, and Han people—lived a seminomadic life throughout the Alaskan interior. They depended on the fish and wildlife of the region for food, clothing, and other materials. In the summer, they caught salmon with nets in the major rivers and streams; in the winter they hunted mainly moose and caribou (Clark 1974, Huntington and Rearden 1993, Osgood 1936, Sullivan 1942). As recorded in their stories, the overriding objective of wildlife management of those people was to reduce predator populations to allow for growth or maintenance of strong prey populations. The advice that was transmitted from generation to generation about wolves, bears, eagles, and sea otters in the stories of many tribal groups was that "we always need to keep them down," and that



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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management 2 Predator Control and Management: Past and Present HISTORY OF PREDATOR CONTROL IN ALASKA Predator control and management in Alaska probably began when humans first crossed over the Bering land bridge from Asia into North America. Early management activities are described in stories that have been transmitted orally through the generations. Life in the Arctic was harsh, and starvation was not uncommon. Survival depended on available prey and hunting success. Great importance was attached to the accuracy of the essential features of those stories because they encapsulated much of what had been learned about the arctic environment and how to survive and prosper in it. Predator Management Before European Contact The indigenous Athabascan Indians—the Koyukon, Ingalik, Tanana, Kutchin, Tanaina, Ahtena, and Han people—lived a seminomadic life throughout the Alaskan interior. They depended on the fish and wildlife of the region for food, clothing, and other materials. In the summer, they caught salmon with nets in the major rivers and streams; in the winter they hunted mainly moose and caribou (Clark 1974, Huntington and Rearden 1993, Osgood 1936, Sullivan 1942). As recorded in their stories, the overriding objective of wildlife management of those people was to reduce predator populations to allow for growth or maintenance of strong prey populations. The advice that was transmitted from generation to generation about wolves, bears, eagles, and sea otters in the stories of many tribal groups was that "we always need to keep them down," and that

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management "it's important to stay ahead of them." Bears and eagles were taken at every opportunity; the level of harvest would be described today as "generous." Wolf populations were addressed in a different manner. The stories of the tribes, clans, and bands tell that they knew the location of almost all the wolf dens in their traditional hunting areas. People regularly culled wolf cubs at their dens to reduce wolf numbers; this was known as denning. The quantitative effects of those control efforts on predator populations are impossible to assess, but it is conventional to assert that reductions in average predator populations were substantial. The Arrival of Europeans and the Early 20th Century The long-established relationship of humans to fish and wildlife resources of the region changed markedly with the establishment of the fur trade, primarily during the early to mid-1800s, followed by the influx of gold-seekers around the turn of the century. Within a few years after the Klondike gold discoveries of 1896, prospectors had fanned out throughout interior Alaska, where they prospected in the summer and often trapped animals in the winter, living primarily on the wild food that they could obtain. The establishment of transportation and trading centers at Fairbanks, Eagle, Circle, Tanana, McGrath, Galena, and other locations far from sources of domestic meat in Washington and Oregon established a market for game meat. In the winter, many prospectors, miners, and others used dog teams to hunt extensively throughout interior Alaska for moose, caribou, and mountain sheep to supply their own needs and the growing markets. The pressure on large mammals for food for people and their dogs, which were then the primary mode of winter transportation, and the comparable pressure on wolves, bears, and other furbearers to supply the fur market were widespread and intense (Anderson 1913). Poison was widely used by trappers to take wolves and other furbearers (Peterson and other 1984). The dispersal of mining activities throughout much of Alaska was followed by major changes in wildlife habitat. Forests were cut to provide wood for construction of buildings, for mine timbers, and for fuel for cabins, houses, and power generation. The extent of wildlife from accidental causes greatly increased, and fires were deliberately started to remove the forest or shrub cover to facilitate prospecting (Lutz 1950, Palmer 1942). As a consequence of the intense human pressure on wildlife and the alteration of habitats through clearing of forests and extensive forest fires during the first half of this century, populations of moose, caribou, mountain sheep, wolves, and bears were reduced to historically low levels. Low levels of game populations and the increased human pressure on them in the early part of this century were factors in the establishment in 1925 of the Alaska Game Commission which imposed the first game-harvest regulations. Wolves were generally viewed as competitors for the moose, caribou, and mountain

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management sheep sought by humans, as well as being responsible for the low abundance of other furbearers. In 1915, the newly created Territorial Legislature established a bounty on wolves that remained in effect until after statehood. The reported annual harvest of wolves in Alaska, based largely on bounty payments, was less than 100 around the turn of the century, between 100 and 300 before the 1920s, and from 350 to more than 1,000 during 1923–1959. In spite of growing opposition nationally, wolf control, ostensibly to protect ungulate populations from depletion was periodically officially sanctioned until 1951, even in Mt. McKinley National Park (later to become Denali National Park). Predator control in Alaska paralleled that elsewhere in the United States. Especially in the West, predator control has long been a major public priority and official public policy, as evidenced by laws that provided for bounties on many predator species and programs that were funded by the public. Bounties have at times been offered for predators from hawks and owls to brown bears and wolves. In Alaska, bald eagles and Dolly Varden char were at one time the subject of bounties. Early Wildlife Management When Alaska was a territory, management of wildlife was under the jurisdiction of the federal government, first through the Biological Survey, which later became the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife and then the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). However, the Alaska Game Commission, made up of citizens of the territory, established methods and means of harvesting wildlife and set seasons and bag limits. In 1948, the FWS Branch of Predator and Rodent Control began operating in Alaska with the primary assignment of killing wolves and coyotes to bring about an increase in moose, caribou, deer, and mountain sheep. Primary control methods included the use of poisons, although year-round trapping of wolves was permitted. Strychnine, encapsulated in chunks of seal blubber, was scattered around carcasses of prey; and "coyote getters," made from cyanide-loaded cartridges that fired into the mouths of wolves or other carnivores that pulled on the scented capsules, were widely deployed. The federal control agency emphasized maximizing the total number of wolves and coyotes killed. Little effort was devoted to focus control in areas of presumed need. The potential use of aircraft for wolf control became apparent as soon as light aircraft came into general use in Alaska in the 1930s. H.R. Ferguson, of Selawik, where reindeer were herded, commented in a letter to the Alaska Game Commission in 1936: "We are using a plane here carrying mail and see the wolves from the air and know if the Department would buy a light pusher plane and use a gunner with buckshot, this country would soon be cleaned up. It would be an unsportsman-like way to kill them, but it is the only way to hunt them." By the late 1940s, aerial hunting of wolves in winter from small aircraft had become an effective technique for killing wolves in open terrain. In 1952, FWS agents

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management mounted an intensive aerial control campaign on Alaska's North Slope, killing more than 250 wolves in a few weeks by a combination of aerial shooting and poison baits. That control effort, in an area with abundant caribou, was based on the untested hypothesis that if caribou in the northern herds were allowed to increase beyond the capacity of their range they would migrate south into new ranges where they would become available to increased numbers of hunters (USFWS 1952). Intensive wolf control by the FWS in Game Management Unit 13 (GMU 13), initiated in 1948, had reduced the wolf population to an estimated 13 by 1953 (Burkholder 1959). An increase in the Nelchina caribou herd from 4,000 in 1948 to 40,000 in 1955 followed (Bos 1975). By 1957, as the Nelchina caribou herd continued to increase, liberal caribou-hunting seasons and bag limits were established. Wolves were then offered complete protection in GMU 13 until 1967. That action was part of an experiment to assess the role of predation in the population dynamics of the Nelchina herd, and it was the first time wolves had been protected in Alaska outside of national parks. Statehood The Alaska Statehood Act was passed by Congress in 1959, and administration of Alaskan fish and wildlife resources was transferred to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) in 1960. The department was staffed by young, university-trained biologists who were aware of the changing attitudes toward wildlife management in North America. They were outspoken in their opposition to the use of poison to control predators, and its use was discontinued in 1960. The wolf was reclassified as a big-game animal and furbearer by the Board of Fish and Game (later split into the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game) in 1963, but it was not until 1968 that the Alaskan legislature gave authority to the Board of Fish and Game to abolish bounties within game management units. By 1975, bounties were no longer paid on wolves except in southeastern Alaska. During recent decades predator control has been attempted in only a relatively small part of the state and has been targeted to areas where it was believed that wolves and bears were keeping moose or caribou populations at very low levels. Bears are mainly managed as game animals, but management efforts are also directed at reducing danger to humans and eliminating bear attractants in areas settled by people. DECISION-MAKING BY THE ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has developed a set of procedures for collecting data on wildlife populations, analyzing and interpreting the data, presenting its conclusions in a standardized format, and obtaining public comment

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management on its assessments and proposed management decisions. Attempts are made to resolve conflicts over proposed management activities, but no formal conflict-resolution process has been implemented. Data Collection and Assessment Types of data collected by the ADFG Division of Wildlife Conservation vary with wildlife species and management objectives. Most data are collected every 1 or 2 years, but for some species, particularly those on which data are difficult and expensive to obtain or those whose management consequences are minimal, data are collected less often. In areas where substantial controversy is expected, such as areas where predator control is being considered, data collection is intensified. The data are put into a standard format by area biologists (of whom there are 23), and the report is sent to the management coordinator for the region in which the data were collected (there are 4 regions). The coordinator reviews, evaluates, and edits the report, which is then released to the public as a federal-aid document. In a controversial case, the report might also be reviewed by research biologists. If an area biologist determines that a regulation change is needed to meet management objectives, he or she consults with the management coordinator, and a regulation proposal is prepared. Such a proposal is reviewed by other staff in the region and then sent to the headquarters in Juneau for staff review. If the proposal is approved by the ADFG director, it is published as a formal regulation proposal and submitted to the Board of Game (BOG). The Division of Wildlife Conservation collects harvest data from hunters' reports and also conducts censuses of wolves and prey populations in each management area. In selected areas, they add to the census data by collecting information on calving rates and survival rates or body condition of prey. The data are used to assess the desirability of different management options. For instance, if a caribou herd exhibits high survival during years when there are few wolves per caribou and low survival during years when there are substantially more wolves per caribou, wolf control might be considered to be a valuable tool for increasing caribou populations. The analyses conducted range from verbal descriptions of data, through statistical analyses of correlations between wolves and prey survival, to specific demographic projections of caribou or moose populations based on assumptions of different mortality due to predators (before and after control). Most of the analyses designed to predict the likelihood that a proposed predator control program will increase prey populations are done by the wildlife biologists primarily responsible for collecting the data on the pertinent populations. The ADFG Division of Subsistence has done a number of surveys on subsistence use in specific communities. In contrast to the Division of Wildlife Conservation, where the focus is on the biology of game animals, the Division of Subsistence surveys cover all subsistence resources used by a given community

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management and the focus is on determining if the subsistence needs of communities are being met. Data collected by the Division of Subsistence have led to reforms in wildlife management policies, and local input has been an important factor in assessing wolf reduction plans. For example, the Division of Subsistence conducted a survey in the McGrath area to determine if subsistence needs were being met and if local people supported or opposed wolf reductions. Public Involvement Public attitudes are assessed only in very limited circumstances. Some surveys are being conducted to determine hunter satisfaction, and a limited program gathers social-science information about management of wildlife in the urban area of Anchorage. ADFG's public-involvement process consists primarily of BOG meetings and the Big Game Advisory Committee (BGAC) meetings that are held around the state each year. BOG holds 2 formal meetings each year in each region, during which all the regulations for that region are considered. This approach is designed to allow BOG to consider the multispecies effects when setting seasons and bag limits. In 1994, a human-dimensions program was started, but all financial support for this effort was eliminated from the ADFG budget during the last 2 legislative sessions. Little support is now received from either the legislative or the executive branch of the Alaska state government for social-science research. There are 87 local BGACs around Alaska, each with 7-11 members. Most committees meet 3 or 4 times each year, although some, such as the committee for the Anchorage area, meet more often. ADFG spends more than $500,000 each year to support local BGACs. All BOG and BGAC meetings are open to the public. The amount of public participation at these meetings depends on the issues. ADFG publishes a regulation-proposal book before each meeting of BOG. The book, which may contain as many as 400 proposals, is distributed to the public through an extensive mailing list. Proposals may come from several sources, including local advisory committees, the public, and the ADFG staff. The public is encouraged to comment on the proposals in writing, and the comments are made available to BOG before its meetings. The public can address any proposal on the table at the BOG meetings, but individual testimony is limited to 5 minutes. In situations with considerable public interest, additional public meetings and open houses are held before the BOG meetings. For predator control programs, ADFG is required to hold at least one public meeting. In practice it holds at least 3 meetings. In addition, the ADFG director and staff members meet regularly with the large wildlife organizations.

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management Conflict Resolution ADFG has no formal conflict resolution process. In controversial situations, such as development of a wolf control plan, the department has experimented with outside conflict resolution through citizen-participation teams. In most cases, however, the conflicts are presented to BOG for resolution and decision. On some occasions, the public has involved the governor's office to seek resolution of conflicts between interest groups. Strategic Planning and Policy-Making No statewide strategic plans exist, and strategic planning processes are poorly developed. General operational plans were written in the middle 1970s, but they are out of date and are rarely used by the agency. The plans provided broad guidelines for management of species by geographic area. The major goals of the plans were maximizing harvest and consumptive opportunities. The public had little input into the development of the plans, and very few people even knew of their existence. In contrast, many area-specific plans have been developed over the last 5 years. The plans are goal-oriented, and the public has been involved in their development. Most of the area plans were developed around a proposed predator control effort. Today, no standard process guides the development of area plans. Developed area plans are presented to BOG for its endorsement and use in establishing area-based regulations. Most area plans are centered around consumptive wildlife uses; there is little consideration in the plans for nonconsumptive use of game and nongame species. In addition to area plans, ADFG has individual species-management plans to guide management; an example is the Muskox management plan. Where area plans or species plans have not been prepared, goals and objectives are set by ADFG to guide internal wildlife management decisions. The public is not involved in this process. Other than BOG and the local BGACs, the public is generally not aware of the goals and objectives. REFERENCES Anderson RM. 1913. Arctic game notes. Distribution of large game animals in the far north—extinction of the musk-ox—the chances for survival of moose and caribou, mountain sheep, polar bear and grizzly. Amer Mus Jour 13:5–21. Bos GN. 1975. A partial analysis of the current population status of the Nelchina Caribou Herd. Pp. 170–180 in JR Luick, PC Lent, DR Klein, and RG White, Eds. Proc 1st International Reindeer and Caribou Symp Biol Pap Univ of Alaska, Spec Rep No. 1. Burkholder BL. 1959. Movements and behavior of a wolf pack in Alaska. J Wildl Manage 23:1–11. Clark AM. 1974. Koyukuk River culture. Mercury Series, Ethnology Service Paper, No. 18. Ottawa: National Museum of Man.

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Wolves, Bears, and their Prey in Alaska: Biological and Social Challenges in Wildlife Management Huntington S and J Rearden. 1993. Shadows on the Koyukuk. Alaska Northwest Books, Seattle, WA. 235 Pp. Lutz HJ. 1950. Ecological effects of forest fires in the interior of Alaska. Paper delivered to First Alaska Sci Conf, Washington, DC. 9 Pp. Yale School of Forestry, New Haven, CT Osgood C. 1936. Contributions to the ethnology of the Kutchin. Yale Univ Pub in Anthro No. 7. Yale Univ Press, New Haven, CT. Palmer LJ. 1942. Caribou versus fire in interior Alaska: a study of burned-over lichen ranges. Unpub Progress Report. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Juneau, AK. 13 Pp. Peterson RO, J Woolington, and TN Bailey. 1984. Wolves of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Wildl Monogr No. 88. 52 Pp. Sullivan RJ. 1942. The Ten'a food quest. Catholic Univ of America, Anthropological Series No. 11. Catholic Univ of America Press, Washington, DC. USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service). 1952. Predator control—Annual report. Dept Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska District, Juneau, AK. 39 Pp.