|ALASKA’S PREDATOR HOLOCAUST: “INTENSIVE MANAGEMENT”
IS IT REALLY THE BEST WAY TO INCREASE HARVESTS OF MOOSE AND CARIBOU?
by Stephen F. Stringham, PhD
(This is a slightly modified version of an article that was published in the Redoubt Reporter on
Wednesday 14 December 2011, prefacing a meeting that night of the Kenai-Soldotna (regional) Fish &
Game Advisory Committee (AC), that was voting on whether or not to support killing most wolves and
bears on the Kenai Peninsula – a form of predator control so extreme that it is popularly known as
“Alaska’s Predator Holocaust,” but masked by the official title “intensive management.”
The AC’s recommendation is forwarded to the State Board of Game (BOG), along with
recommendations from other regional AC’s on the Kenai Peninsula. Then the BOG will make whatever
decision it wants, rationalizing that decision as public will if the majority of AC’s voted in favor of predator
control, or ignoring public will if the majority voteds against predator control – at least that is how events
have progressed in previous years when this was voted on.
Although I studied predator-prey dynamics during the 1980’s, I have not kept up on recent scientific
literature thoroughly enough to still claim expertise. Rather, I claim only enough insight to recognize
when the public is being flim-flammed on the subject and to point out the kinds of information necessary
to make effective decisions – without which a Predator Holocaust is unlikely to help moose and caribou,
to say nothing of the unwarranted damage it would inflict to other species and ecosystems
Whatever my personal feelings about predator control, my professional stance must be that all
management decisions should be based on sufficient science to be sure that management of “game”
species does not seriously disrupt the ecosystems of which those species are components. Steve)
Reading recent Letters to the Editor of various regional newspapers suggests that the majority of the
Alaskan public believes that the key to increasing harvests of moose and caribou is killing their major
non-human predators: wolves and bears. A tacit argument is made that this is a democracy and that
the majority rules. Interesting that majority rule is invoked only once a majority has been convinced to
support some political agenda, not when the majority opposes it.
In any event, public will on predator control is based on what the public knows of how predators, prey,
and habitat interact on the Kenai Peninsula. Unfortunately, their knowledge has been badly tainted by
mis-information in the form of accidental errors or deliberate propaganda from both pro-predator and
anti-predator advocates. Two half-truths do not one whole truth make.
For example, the Governor Palin administration’s program to “educate” the public about Alaska’s
Predator Holocaust did more to spout anti-predator dogma than it did to critique that dogma to expose
and correct any flaws in its applicability to the Kenai Peninsula. (The issue is not whether predator
control can be a useful tool, but how that tool is best used in this situation, integrated with other
Listening to the Alaska’s Predator Holocaust sales pitch reminded me of the way that Jack Abramoff
convinced clients to invest in his Ponzi-like schemes. Potential new clients were so dazzled by
testimonials from previous investors about sudden, risk-free profits that they succumbed to wishful
thinking. They refused to listen to skeptics who warned that it was all too good to be true. And they
declined to do their homework.
Alaska’s Predator Holocaust has likewise dazzled “hunters” with the notion that all the ills of our moose
and caribou populations can be solved by killing most wolves and bears. It sounds soooo good that it
mussst be true. It HAS to be true because “Jack” told us so.
On the contrary. Reliable, long-term profitability – whether from financial investments or wildlife
populations – can be consistently achieved only through careful research and sound analysis. No
amount of testimony from the general public will provide that. This requires professionals with deep
knowledge of how predator control, habitat manipulation, and other tools are best used to maximize
Fortunately, we have a wealth of such professionals at hand. Among these are current agency
personnel such as Jeff Sellinger (ADF&G) and John Morton (USFWS), plus retired agency personnel
such as Rick Sinnot (ADF&G) and Vic VanBallenberghe (USFWS), as well as consultants like myself.
If the AC were to give several of us an opportunity for a panel discussion, we could explain predator-
prey relationships on the Kenai Pensinula and make predictions on the costs, benefits, and unintended
consequences of implementing a Predator Holocaust here. But we cannot do it meaningfully in the 3-5
minutes apiece offered by the AC. Half-an-hour apiece would be more reasonable. Given that
advocates of Predator Holocaust have already had a great many opportunities to express their position,
I suspect that all their key points could be made by a single articulate individual such as BOG Vice Chair
Ted Spraker. I would also suggest adding one representative of a local conservation organization such
as the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. As is normal in scientific symposia, each panel member would make a
presentation, then answer any probing questions from other panel members or from the audience.
This would, of course, require demanding that agencies unmuzzle their biologists so that the public can
hear their individual professional judgments, not just departmental positions which have been heavily
shaped by political pressure. Whether the hand covering our mouths reaches out from Washington D.
C. or from Juneau, Big Brother bullying us is an unwanted intrusion into our lives. It corrupts both
science and democracy.
Meanwhile, how will the AC proceed? Will its recommendations be based on ballot box biology about
the benefits and costs of Alaska’s Predator Holocaust? Or will the AC demand that the BOG delay any
decision about Predator Holocaust on the Kenai Peninsula at least until our populace finally has a
chance to learn the real facts -- the whole spectrum of facts, not just those cherry-picked to further
some political agenda?
Your decision could have a major influence on the long-term sustained health and yield from our wildlife
Stephen F. Stringham, PhD
President, WildWatch (Research, consulting, and educational services)
(Unfortunately, the AC decided to vote in favor of Predator Holocaust before any of us had an
opportunity to provide input. Steve)