Wolves and Moose in Alaska

The Future Of Hunting, by Dr. Dave Samuel. Sponsored by TreeSuit.

If you go to the Winter 2010 issue of Defenders of Wildlife magazine on the Internet, there is an article about the on-going saga of wolves and moose in Alaska.  Before getting into this issue, know that in 1994 an Intensive Management Law was passed in Alaska allowing predator control. Also note that the Alaska Constitution directs that their ‘natural resources be developed for the maximum benefit of the people, and that the natural resources, such as wildlife, shall be utilized.  developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle subject to preferences among beneficial users’.

It is fairly obvious that many Alaskans, natives and non natives, use moose as food to feed their families (those would be ‘beneficial users’ as noted above).  Lots of hunters in Alaska hunt moose for food.  And there are subsistence laws that allow natives to hunt moose.  Those subsistence laws also are based upon sustained yield.  Sustained yield is what it says . . . maintain wildlife populations of whatever species you are talking about so that the numbers are healthy, and will continue.  Hence the term . . . ‘sustained yield’.  The harvest has to be consistent with sustained yield and the Alaska wildlife folks make that determination.  Now folks in the lower 48 may not know this, and they may not understand this, but laws deem it such.

This means that if moose numbers get too low, then management must happen to allow moose numbers to increase.  If hunting lowers the moose below a certain level, then hunting is reduced.  If wolves lower the moose below a certain level, then wolves are reduced and the purpose of that reduction is to do two things . . . allow moose numbers to go up, and keep wolf numbers at a healthy level.

OK, let’s look at a scenario where moose numbers drop in an area in Alaska.  Here’s what happens.  First, moose hunting seasons are shortened for residents and/or eliminated for non residents.  Second, wolf and bear hunting is increased.  Note, they must keep the wolf and bear populations ‘sustainable’, but numbers are lowered.  It’s the law.  The regulations allowing this are complex and different for different regions of the state but the regulations are there.

Wolves have become the number one predator of moose.

The Defenders of Wildlife magazine article mentioned at the outset that predator control doesn’t work, and that it is not science based.  So, they continue to hammer Alaska wildlife officials (as they did Sarah Palin when she was Governor) and they use this issue to generate donations from people who believe what DOW tells them.  They lead their followers to believe that wolves are being exterminated.  Hmmm.  Let’s see.

Enter a July 2010 Journal of Wildlife Management article titled ‘Science and Values Influencing Predator Control for Alaska Moose Management’.   As a former wildlife professor, I can tell you that the stature and standing of this journal is the same for the field of wildlife as the New England Journal of Medicine is for the medical profession.  Junk does not get into this journal.  Material is refereed, edited, and if it’s in there, it’s fact.

Here is what the authors looked at before writing this wildlife paper.  The three authors, who work for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, had 6 objectives in writing this paper.  Here are the first four, which are most important to this column.

First, to review studies and case histories to identify factors affecting moose populations in inland Alaska.
2) review manipulative studies to determine if moose survival could be increased by reducing predation.
3) review case histories that tested whether a lower level of predation was associated with higher yields of moose; and
4) review the practical realities of evaluating whether habitats can support more moose, be protected from too many moose, and be improved in anticipation of more moose following predator control.

To meet these objectives they looked at data from10 moose mortality studies; 36 case histories; 10 manipulative studies, and 15 moose nutrition studies.  They also looked at anything they could find that gave contradictory results.  Guess what they found from these 71 studies?  ‘Substantially reducing predation for several years can result in more moose and elevated yields of moose in inland Alaska’s moose-bear-wolf systems’.  They added that…’the sustainability of Alaskan predator populations remains secure’.

Let’s take a quick look at one of the 10 manipulation studies they reviewed.  You need to look at such studies to determine what is really happening in the wild.  For example, if you reduce wolves and the increased number of moose calves die anyway (from bears, starvation, disease, etc.) then you have no business killing wolves.  Anyway, look at this one study.  From 1976-1982 Alaska Fish and Game used aerial wolf control and private hunters to reduce wolf density from between  55 and 80 percent in Unit 20A.  Thereafter wolf numbers recovered in four years in most of that area.  Then from 1989 to 1993 wolf numbers jumped to a new high, and stayed there thru 2008.    By reducing the wolves initially, moose to wolf ratios went from 13 to 1 before they killed wolves to more than 40 to 1 through 2008.  There’s more to this example, but you get the idea.  They manipulated wolves down and moose went up and the wolves then also did fine.

I might add that they found some other interesting things in doing the reviews of these 71 studies.  Where brown bears were the main predator, ‘wolf control alone produced a slow increase in moose numbers’.  Where wolves were the main predator, ‘substantial wolf control alone can produce a fast increase in moose numbers’.

The biology is there.  Evident, compelling.  The article also talks about the values and expectations of all the stakeholders in this debate.  That’s material for another column, but let me just add that Alaska has studied this thing inside out and backwards.  Not every biologist in Alaska agrees with the conclusions of each of the 71 studies, but overall, this journal article makes a compelling argument for wolf control and for wolf, bear, and moose management.

Meanwhile, the pro wolf folks write articles about ‘exterminating’ wolves in Alaska.  I guess that if the press and anti organizations say it often enough, then people will believe it.  Sort of like President Obama telling us almost weekly that the economy is getting stronger and we have more jobs than we did a month ago, or a year ago.  Me?  I believe the science.  I believe the numbers.  I believe the biologists who do this for a living.  To do anything else is pure folly.

We also have a wolf/moose/elk controversy going on in the Northwest.  You can learn more about that and sign a petition  to help by going to www.biggameforever.com.  Please do that.

Also be sure and read: Lobo Watch right here on: BHN
For more also go to: Lobo Watch

4 Responses to "Wolves and Moose in Alaska"

  1. DAVID L GARDOW   2011/03/21 at 4:17 am

    Wild life will not exist in the future with out science and game and predator management. Science is not completely fool proof but but science and game management has proved over time to be very accurate. Our world is no longer the same as it was 100 years ago when wildlife could manage its self. Hunters Science and wild life enthusiasts have helped wildlife considerably over many years. It is not science or politics. It is the proof . I have not seen any proof from animal rights people or animal rights organizations what they say or what the believe in . I will support science and hunters till there is proof that what there are doing is wrong. I know I will never ever see that happen because hunters and wildlife enthusiasts care about what happens. Thank you to all of you keep up the good work. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Robert Smith   2011/06/09 at 10:46 am

    In addition to the rule we all have the right to protect ourselves. The reason we must protect ourselves is due to the fact the aggressor is none the less a predator be it man or beast. Go into the wild, enhance a wolf pack as you are armed to protect yourself. as they approach with the intent of one thing in mind…you, start eliminating and begin with the leader of the pack. The majority will run off, but they will also return. Hungry, Mean & Mad. If you are ‘in fear of your life, do it again, and this will eliminate somewhere between 8 & 20 wolf pups from ever being born. This may sound harsh but it is what it is. We all know that Big Brother is also a predator and so are his menions, and by following the law that they created we can use this towards our advantage, I’m not saying take an 18 round .22mag rifle and start unloading several clips on the wolves, what I am saying is 2 fellows camp in known wolf territory with a fresh kill hanging. As you are approached, each man takes out the more aggressive of the pack x 2=4, and not only do each of you have a witness ( we were being attacked) it starts getting the message across the table.

  3. Robert Crawford   2011/11/25 at 2:15 pm

    Am interested in the source of the photo in this article, with the wolves waiting out a moose in the snow. It’s being used in a scare campaign by anti-wolf groups in Idaho–like a lot of other pictures taken in northern Canada and Alaska, it’s being put forth as having been taken in Idaho. Another being used this way was actually taken by Chadden Hunter north of the Arctic Circle–emailed around as being taken near Weippe, Idaho.

    • Rich Walton   2011/11/29 at 8:35 am

      the source of the photo is not important Robert, the fact is, that wolves are pack predators and the animals we have posted in the Lobo Watch column are actual events taken in the field. I would find it hard to justify calling anything you refer to as anti-wolf groups do as ‘scare’ tactics, even the term anti-wolf. I think what the majority of those who opposed the wolf introduction to states is one of rational control techniques. Right now the gov’t and the environmentalists are pursuing an agenda they have planned from the start, to allow the wolf packs to over breed and ultimately decimate the game animals to such a point that there would be no alternative but to ban human hunting. The wolf situation is out of control and must be brought under intelligent game management.