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USFWS responds to Alaska’s concerns about island wolves and caribou

[large thumbnail url=”usfws-responds-to-alaskas-concerns-about-island-wolves-and-caribou” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”25″] [thumbnail icon url=”usfws-responds-to-alaskas-concerns-about-island-wolves-and-caribou” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”25″] Alaska announced their intention to shoot wolves on Unimak Island, which they plan to begin by June 1, but the land is Federally owned and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a press release announcing their response.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Responds to State Concerns About Caribou Management
May 24, 2010 – contact: Bruce Woods (907) 786-3695

On May 20th, 2010 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sent a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Acting Director Rowan Gould announcing the state’s intention to begin a predator control operation on Unimak Island on or about June 1, 2010. The Service today responded to that letter. Unimak Island is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act set forth major purposes for establishing and managing Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Among these are to conserve the refuge’s animal populations and habitats in their natural diversity, and to provide opportunities for continued subsistence uses by local residents. Among other points, Director Gould’s letter included the following:

  •  The State first raised concerns about the viability of the caribou herd on Unimak Island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2009. Since that time, the Service’s Alaska region has worked closely with Alaska Department of Fish and Game to better understand the biological issues at hand. The Service has issued permits to allow additional radio collaring and biological sampling of wolves and caribou; and has discussed, at length, the process federal land managers must follow prior to initiating new management programs.
  •  The Service’s Alaska Region has begun that process, including working toward National Environmental Policy Act compliance, to determine appropriate management alternatives and actions.
  • Although we acknowledge the sense of urgency facing the Unimak Island caribou herd, we, as a federal agency, are required to be transparent in our actions. Completing the NEPA process will provide that transparency.
  • We have used the NEPA process in every instance where we conducted predator control on National Wildlife Refuge Lands in Alaska, including the Rat Island invasive rat eradication project and the trapping of foxes to protect brant colonies on the Yukon Delta.

The proposed predator management by the State of Alaska, or its agents, on Unimak Island requires a special use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is considered a significant action since aerial predator control has not been conducted on National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in recent history. Conducting any such activity without a special use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be a violation of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended, and considered as a trespass on the Refuge; and would be immediately referred to the United States Attorney.

  • Director Gould concluded that the agency values greatly its relationships and tradition of partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and encouraged the State to continue to work with the Alaska Region on this issue following the path required for major actions taken by Federal agencies. He reaffirmed the Service’s belief that the amount of time needed to utilize a sound and legally supportable decision-making process will allow state and federal agencies to better understand desired wildlife population outcomes and to define the management actions necessary to attain those outcomes.

The Service shares the state’s concern for caribou populations on Unimak Island, and will continue to conduct its management activities in accordance with the refuge mandates of ANILCA. We believe the Unimak Island caribou population and the public are best served by continuing the enviable history of cooperation and communication between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read the original press release on fws.gov: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Responds to State Concerns About Caribou Management

2 Responses to “USFWS responds to Alaska’s concerns about island wolves and caribou”

  1. dobieman

    I am a 41-year resident of Alaska, have hunted and hiked extensively throughout the state, and follow our wildlife issues closely. Here are the facts about the Unimak Island situation:

    A. The bull:cow ratio of the 400 caribou is 5:100, a very bad ratio. Most of these 20 or so bulls are old and so pregnancy rates and health of newborns is low.
    B. From 2000 to 2008 (when all caribou hunting was stopped) the residents took only 12 animals. From 2001 to 2008, trophy hunters took 90 of the best bulls.
    C. The only town, False Pass, is on the eastern end of the island while the caribou are on the western end, 75 miles away. No roads; only air or boat access. Thus, most residents hunt the mainland which is very close.
    D. Most residents utilize a mainly marine diet as they are right on the ocean and many are commercial fishermen.
    E. The Ak. Dept. of Fish and Game was well aware of the growing imbalance between bulls and cows for many years, yet did nothing to curtail the trophy hunting until it was too late.
    F. This is a federal refuge and so belongs to all Americans and is mandated to be managed for all Americans.
    G. The herd has actually increased to as many as 1500 animals and dropped to 275 over the decades. Fluctuations in populations are typical of island populations.
    H. Killing wolves will not help the present population of older bulls reproduce any faster or better.
    I. The USFWS is looking into relocating young bulls from the mainland to the island to address the situation, a far more productive response to the issue than wolf killing.
    J. In the past caribou have spontaneously swum the short distance from the mainland to the island.
    K. That the State of Alaska has no real scientific basis to begin wolf killing on the island is shown by their characterizing this as the “poor little state vs the big nasty feds” instead of presenting data.
    L. The State of Alaska Board of Game and Dept. of Fish and Game are dominated by trophy-hunter interests, thus the widespread and casual use of predator control regardless of lack of supportive data.

  2. admin

    This is very interesting data. I agree that the federal plan is much more valid as a way of fixing the problem.

    While HOWLColorado is not anti-hunter, we are very much pro-responsible hunting and that means having strict controls on the amount sports hunters can take from a given population.

    Trophy hunters have a tendency to do significant damage to a population due not merely to the number of animals they may kill, but more importantly, the type of animals they choose to kill. The trophy hunter is, in essence, counter-intuitive to what natural hunters do. The concept of natural selection does not apply. The weakest can survive making them targets for natural selection through environmental and other predatory causes. The strong are dead. The weak are dead. The population ends up dwindling to the point of extinction all because there were no controls put in to place to prevent the taking of all the biggest and best animals.

    As you note, the numbers of animals in a herd fluctuate for all sorts of reasons. Deadly winters, over-extended natural resources, predation, disease… these are all contributing factors. High populations of ungulates does a lot of damage to the flora in their given range. Much as wolf packs will fight – reducing the number of wolves in an overpopulated area, ungulates will over-feed in an overpopulated area. Less available food = weaker animals, the weakest fall prey of predators and disease. The population falls – the strongest survive and breed.

    Natural balance is not pretty, and is in constant flux. To introduce a dangerous and uncontrolled constant (such as killing 10 healthy bulls in a small population every year for a decade) has an effect which is amplified to an unknown degree based on the current point in a cycle that the population might be in.

    If the population is thriving and on an upswing 10 animals a year won’t have much of an effect as there are plenty of strong animals to step in and fill the void.

    When a population is heading towards the lowest point in it’s population cycle, those 10 animals could represent a massive percentage of the viable breeding population. Common sense should prevail here… but it does not.

    Thank you for the comment.

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