For decades, Alaska wildlife officials have implemented predator control programs that allow hunters to harvest more wolves and bears throughout the state. The belief is that culling these animals will allow for better moose hunting opportunities, but one group of researchers has concluded otherwise.
Earlier this month, a team of retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game and University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers published a study that aimed to test the hypothesis that wolf and bear culling increases the number of deer, moose and caribou numbers for hunters. They focused on Game Management Unit 13, the area between Denali National Park and the Copper River from 1973 and 2020. What they found has made them rethink the need for predator control in Alaska.
According to data from the ADFG, 1,385 wolves and more than 3,500 brown and black bears were killed between 2008 and 2020 using a variety of methods, including predator control. State officials have stood firm in the belief that these efforts have made a positive impact on the number of moose available for hunters. However, the researchers behind the recent study, “Efficacy of Killing Large Carnivores to Enhance Moose Harvests: New Insights from a Long-Term View”, concluded that there was no correlation between brown and black bear harvest and subsequent moose hunts. Meanwhile, researchers noted no change in moose harvests during wolf culling programs.
“Regardless of how we sorted the available data we were unable to detect a positive relationship between kill numbers of any predator species and subsequent moose harvests,” the study read.
State Officials Claim Predator Control Programs Have Helped Moose Hunting in Shorter Period of Time
The question of the predator control programs’ efficacy is more than a matter of numbers, though. There’s a political undertone that seems to separate the avid hunting community and Alaska natives/Lower 48 sympathizers that believe there should be no hunting of wolves and bears for any reason.
One of the leading authors of the study is Sterling Miller, a former Department of Fish and Game research scientist and now Montana local. Miller has a unique position as a member of both sides of the spectrum and believes that this insight is the key to understanding what truly impacts state moose hunting.
“I don’t want to speak for my two co-authors but at least my motivation in part is to be able to say things that I think need to be said that local people are unable to say … if they happen to agree,” Miller said, per Anchorage Daily News.
That means being the bearer of bad news when he ends up finding conflicting data.
Meanwhile, state officials have acknowledged the findings of the study. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang added that authorities are currently reviewing the materials, but in the meantime, they aren’t changing predator control methods.
“There are two sides of any issue, including intensive management. As literature such as this comes out, we review and consider it,” Vincent-Lang wrote in an email. “In this case, my staff is reviewing the article and will report their conclusions to me. Based on their preliminary assessment they see some flaws with the study and analyses.”