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Ecologists: Alaska wildlife management threatens state's largest carnivores

"Basically, managers have liberalized regulations for large carnivores in a strategy of 'kill as many as possible and hope that it is OK in the end.' This is not science-based management," researcher Sterling Miller said.

By
Brooks Hays
Ecologists argue Alaska's wildlife managers are allowing too many brown bears to be killed by hunters. Photo by Oregon State University
Ecologists argue Alaska's wildlife managers are allowing too many brown bears to be killed by hunters. Photo by Oregon State University

Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Alaska's wildlife management plan puts the state's largest carnivores, wolves and bears, at risk, according to a group of ecologists at Oregon State University.

In a new paper published in the journal PLOS Biology, ecologists argue the state's management plan privileges moose, caribou and deer over carnivores. By depressing carnivore numbers, wildlife managers can ensure moose, caribou and deer populations balloon -- a boon for hunters.

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"Gray wolves, brown bears and black bears are managed in most of Alaska in ways designed to significantly lower their numbers," William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State's College of Forestry, said in a news release. "Alaska is unique in the world because these management priorities are both widespread and legally mandated."

Ripple and his colleagues blame Alaska's mismanagement on the Intensive Management Law, passed in 1994, which called for an increase in the number hoofed game animals. When moose, caribou and deer populations are larger, wildlife officials can allow hunters to kill more animals.

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"The law does also identify habitat management as a form of intensive management, but habitat management hasn't been used effectively as a tool to increase abundance of these ungulates," said study co-author Sterling Miller, a retired research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"Therefore, the default tool is predator control, the most widespread form of which is liberalizing state hunting and trapping regulations for large carnivores," Miller said. "This liberalization has been most extreme for brown bears, as this species used to be managed very conservatively."

Over the last three decades, hunters in Alaska's 11 national preserves have been permitted to kill increasing numbers of brown bears. But wildlife officials have failed to conduct any studies to measure the effects of intensive management on brown bear population numbers.

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"Basically, managers have liberalized regulations for large carnivores in a strategy of 'kill as many as possible and hope that it is OK in the end.' This is not science-based management," Miller said.

The new paper -- authored by Ripple and Miller, as well as John Schoen, who is retired from the Alaska's Department of Fish and Game, and Sanford Rabinowitch, who is retired from the National Park Service -- calls for Alaska to repeal its Intensive Management Law, adopt a science-based approach to wildlife management and to end carnivore reduction programs.

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