Archive for June 13th, 2010
It appears a tanned wolf skin is worth about $325. A raw wolf skin, before drying and tanning, is presumably worth something less, but WC will use $325 as the value of a dead wolf for the purposes of this essay. What’s a live wolf worth, then?
After all, we know what a moose is worth. The net value of all moose is estimated at $28,000,000 total, or about $160 per moose, assuming 175,000 moose. So even a wolf skin is worth more than a moose, although a wolf can eat a lot of moose over the course of its life. Moose are important to the economy.
Tourists – all 1.6 million or so of them – are kind of important part to the economy, too. And the tourism sector has been in decline. Depending on who you talk to, it’s the cruise tax, the economy or Alaska’s bone-headed game management policies. WC assumes it is some combination of all three. In any case, the State can’t afford to do anything to make the decline worse. Even in its present depressed state, tourists spend about $1.5 billion in Alaska; if you add in the travel and cruise tickets, it’s $2.1 billion. And about 27,000 jobs. The 2008 to 2009 decline cost Alaska bout 1,200 jobs. The forecast for 2010 is even more dismal. In the situation, you don’t want to do anything to make a bad situation worse.
But that’s exactly what our friends at the Board of Game, encouraged by our trigger-happy governor and ex-governor, have done. By increasing the killing of wolves they hurt the tourism industry in two ways: they encourage a boycott, at a time when the industry is already hurting, and they decrease the chances of visitors seeing wolves, one of the primary draws for coming to Alaska.
It’s true that boycotts have been threatened before. It’s difficult to measure their effectiveness. But to the extent the threat has less than zero impact, it’s a risk that Alaska can ill-afford to take right now. And there’s a certain high-profile ex-governor who has served as a lightning rod for this controversy.
WC can’t find published studies on how many visitors come to Alaska to see wolves, but there are studies of how many visitors come to see wildlife. The 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – Alaska, published by the Departments of Interior and Commerce, reports 354,000 came to Alaska primarily to see wildlife. If you count locals who watch wildlife, it’s 496,000. The same study reports that the total residents and non-resident who hunt in Alaska as 71,000. So there are seven times as many people who want to watch wildlife, including wolves, as there are people who hunt in Alaska.
If those numbers are right, why is the State of Alaska shooting wolves? Especially, why is the State shooting wolves around important tourist destinations like Denali National Park?
The Board of Game, of course, argues that by killing wolves and bears, predation on moose is reduced, making more moose available for hunting. But that answer begs the seven to one use ratio. And any first year biology student will tell you that in a stable ecology, predation doesn’t reduce or limit populations; food limits populations. After all, moose and the critters that prey on them were stable for ten thousand years before Great White Hunters came along. Way back in 1997, the National Academy of Sciences criticized Board of Game efforts to manage moose populations by managing predator populations. The major basis for the criticism was the absence of evidence that there was anything but short-term benefits to reducing predator populations.
The Board also argues that more moose would feed low income citizens, but, again, the Board’s own data show that’s less than four percent of the population, and has very little to do with moose around major tourist destinations.
What it seems to come down to is the unproven assumption that killing predators near the road system will create more hunting opportunities for urban hunters. That’s nice, but it is obviously economically short-sighted, and potentially catastrophic for the tourism industry. And biologically dubious.
WC is no wolf lover, but aren’t the Board of Game’s decisions dumb? Even for the Board of Game?