Can We Rethink This?

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park

The Alaska Board of Game never met a proposal to kill a predator that it didn’t like. Why, it likes those proposals so much that it doesn’t matter what the public thinks, or what the science says. If it’s an opportunity to kill a wolf or a bear, the answer is, “Hell, yes,” and no further answers will even be considered.

The idea that you can increase the population of ungulates by decreasing the population of predators has always been scientifically suspect. Any biologist will tell you it is the supply of food, not predation, that typically sets the upper limit on a population. After all, predator and prey have been around for millennia, at least since the end of the last ice age. They’ve reached a point of evolutionary stability. It might be cyclical, like snowshoe hares and lynx, but in longer terms, it’s stable. And, shockingly, it reached a point of stability without the clumsy involvement of the Alaska Board of Game.

But the science hasn’t stopped the Board of Game from aggressively pursuing extended programs of “intensive management,” an undertaker’s euphemism for slaughtering wolves and bears. Damn the science and blast away. In the collective intelligence of the Board of Game, every wolf killed is likely to save at least a few moose, whose meat can consumed by humans instead.

Well, the science against predator management has gotten even clearer. Recent research has established that the ratio of predators to prey to forage is not a constant. More prey species does not imply more predators. In higher density prey populations, the rate of reproduction drops. Predators have a harder time killing adults; in fact, the “intensive management” of wolves and bears is specifically aimed at carnivore predation on young moose and caribou. But when prey species reach a certain level, reproduction drops and so do predator populations.

So the effect of reducing predator populations is probably to reduce reproduction in the prey species. In other words, the Alaska Board of Game’s “intensive management” program is counterproductive. It is not likely to raise the population of prey species – moose and caribou – because the effect of killing wolves and bears is to reduce reproduction rates.

WC predicts the new data will have zero impact the Board of Game’s management plans. Because it has never been about the science; it’s about an excuse to kill things. Never mind that killing things may not work, and may even be counterproductive. It’s about emotions and indulgence; not science. Even more evidence that the Board of Game is indulging in shoddy science doesn’t matter at all.


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