A New Source of Information About Alaska Wolves
In late August 2007, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) announced that it would soon begin a $400,000 effort to educate Alaskans and others about wolves and the role of wolf (and bear)-killing programs in producing more moose and caribou for hunters. The assistant director of ADFG’s wildlife division indicated that biologists would use the money to “explain the science behind the present wolf- and bear-killing program and detail its goals and successes.”
His boss, the commissioner of ADFG, said the effort will emphasize that “wolves are not threatened by the current program.” As of this writing (late September 2007), 666 wolves have been killed by aerial hunters since the program began in 2003 and thousands more have been killed in other ways.
In one of those strange coincidences, I launched a science-based Web site – www.alaskawolves.org - on the same day that ADFG announced its effort. The purpose of my site is to provide a new source of information about wolves and the problems they face in Alaska, based on the long-term field research I am doing with support from Friends of Animals. It is safe to assume that there will be major differences between the information I post on my site and what state biologists will provide in their upcoming $400,000 campaign.
I will continue to respond to ADFG’s claims that the killing programs are based on good science – a myth that has played a major role in convincing many Alaskans and the state courts to allow these programs to continue. The silly notion that the killing does not threaten wolves might seem unworthy of a response. However, it illustrates a deeper shortcoming in the way many biologists evaluate the impacts of human killing on wildlife groups and populations, so I will give it continuing emphasis.
There will be regular updates about the interesting things that are going on with my wolf study groups (22 at present) as well as the hunting and trapping problems they face. And I will explore some fascinating new ways of looking at the biology of wolves and the dynamics of wolf-prey systems, based on the broader perspectives that this research has generated since 1966.
One of the features of alaskawolves.org that should set it apart and make clear the unique, comprehensive nature of the underlying field research is the wolf photography that will appear regularly, particularly in the blog entries. Proponents of wolf-killing often try to belittle opponents as naïve, inexperienced outsiders but never themselves produce this kind of direct evidence of carrying out the close scientific observations in the wild that are necessary for meaningful insights.
The illustrated blog entries will not only explore interesting aspects of wolf behavior but will also, in effect, take visitors along on some of my research flights and ground expeditions. Education will be a primary objective on these trips, but I am just as hopeful of instilling or rekindling in others the rewarding sense of wonder that observing wolves in this beautiful wilderness stirs in me. Nothing is more important to a good scientist than a never-ending, child-like sense of wonder, and unfortunately nothing is more conspicuously absent at ADFG.
The Reports pages of alaskawolves.org will provide the most technical detail. At this writing, there are 21 downloadable reports, essays, photo narratives, correspondence, maps, and related items, and I will continue to add to the list. Most of these items either describe aspects of my field research in the Denali and Fortymile regions or review the state’s wolf-killing programs. I wrote them to be useful for scientists but also for non-scientists who want more of an in-depth understanding of the issues and are willing to work a little harder to achieve this.
Although many of these reports already challenge the ADFG killing programs in detail, I will continue to repeat and summarize the arguments in new ways. I suspect the existing reports also already respond to much of the “new” information that ADFG is about to disseminate.
For example, in announcing the $400,000 effort, the assistant wildlife director cited an alleged 14 percent increase in the total number of moose as an indication of the success of the wolf-killing program in Game Management Unit 13. Most people will assume that ADFG counted all the GMU 13 moose to arrive at this conclusion.
To the contrary, ADFG’s numbers are derived from counts conducted across only a few thousand square miles of the 23,000 square mile area of GMU 13. And the counts were conducted in a way that makes it impossible to determine their accuracy and precision and thus to make reliable year-to-year comparisons.
Most serious of all, ADFG biologists have been next to clueless about the confounding effects on their estimates of highly variable year-to-year moose migrations. Indeed, in a 1993 report on aerial moose surveys that I conducted in GMU 13 and elsewhere, I described a 30 to 50-mile moose migration from the major ADFG count area in GMU 13 and indicated how this could easily fool biologists into thinking that there had been predation- or hunting-related changes in moose numbers and calf percentages.
In other words, the wolf-killing programs can be challenged at multiple levels; but for starters they are beset with faulty claims about problematic moose or caribou numbers and trends, because of unreliable counting procedures. I address these deficiencies in extensive technical detail at alaskawolves.org in sections of the reports and other materials dated March 2006, November 2006, May 2001 (including the appendix), February 2000, and February 1999.
As for the ADFG commissioner’s pronouncement that the current killing program does not threaten wolves, for now read the pertinent sections of the items dated March 2007, March 2006, and December 2006 on the Reports page and August 2007 (pp 3-9) on the Reports2 page.
ADFG biologists often “educate” with pronouncements such as these that have already been debunked, in the hope that most people won’t know the difference. My intent is for alaskawolves.org to make this much more difficult for them to do.
The August 2007 annual report to the National Park Service might provide some of the most interesting reading currently posted at the site. I highly recommend keeping it handy as background for upcoming blog entries and reports about the Denali wolves. Note in particular what has been happening with the famous Toklat family group (pp 3-9) since it suffered major trapping and shooting losses in early 2005. This is an important story with continuing twists that I will be following and reporting on closely.
I will be updating alaskawolves.org at frequent intervals. Visit regularly, and share the address with others.