Aerial Predator Control Plan on Kenai Peninsula Under Consideration

The state Board of Game is considering a controversial plan to begin aerial predator control on the Kenai Peninsula for the first time. The moose hunt for most of the Kenai has been severely limited. The board of game is looking for ways to give hunters more opportunities to bag moose. But state biologists have said predation is not the issue. And conservation groups are opposing the plan.

The predator control plan for the Kenai is still a proposal at this point. But its chances of passing at the Board of Game meeting next month are good; very good, if you ask Tony Kavalock, the state’s assistant director for the division of wildlife conservation.

“It’s highly likely,” Kavalock said. “The board’s under a lot of pressure, as is the department to do something to recover the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula.”

There are two moose populations on the Kenai the state is concerned about. In the northern Kenai, moose population numbers have fallen by 40 percent, due to habitat limitations. In the South, the overall moose population numbers are fine, according to the state, but there aren’t enough bulls. Department of Fish and Game biologists don’t think predation is causing either problem. And that troubles Theresa Fiorino, Alaska Representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

“In either case, predation has not been shown to be a driving factor and the data is pretty clear on that predation is not driving either one of these moose population concerns the Kenai,” Fiorino said.

To Fiorino, it doesn’t make sense to kill predators if predators aren’t the problem. And Alaska law says the board of game can’t implement predator control if it would be “ineffective based on scientific information.” Fiorino questions how the state would have the authority to implement the plan.

“I think that the board of game believes that anytime there is any sacrifice by hunters an equal amount of sacrifice needs to be taken by the wolf population or any predator population,” Fiorino said.

This year the Board of Game took action to correct the low bull moose numbers on the southern Kenai, virtually eliminating hunting of yearling bulls. Wildlife advocates want the Board to wait to let those actions improve the bull numbers. John Toppenberg lives on the Kenai and is director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

“If you’re going to decimate predators it had better be with the scientific data to back it up and it should be an extreme last ditch alternative when everything else has failed, rather than the first option which is how it’s being utilized in this circumstance,” Toppenberg said.

But the state says aerial predator control is warranted, even if the impact it ultimately has is small. In the northern Kenai section only about 3 percent of the land is state owned, because a large chunk is the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. At the Board of Game meeting in March, a state biologist said that meant predator control would not be effective in increasing the moose population. But the state’s Tony Kavalock says the moose hunt on the Kenai has been slashed by as much as 80 percent, so it’s important to give predator control a chance to work.

Kavalock believes the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula has been in trouble for a long time and the state hasn’t paid enough attention to the issue. He hopes a predator control program there will bring needed attention to the problem.

“Quite frankly I think the Kenai’s gotten kind of a back seat to the whole program statewide so it’s been allowed to go for a long time and people have come to a point now where they’re pretty sick of it, they want to see something done,” Kavalock said.

Ted Spraker is a Board of Game Member who lives on the Kenai Peninsula. At the Board of Game meeting in March, he was one of the most vocal members in favor of predator control. At the end of the day, he summed up his argument this way.

“I can’t go back to the Kenai unless I say there’s some hope, some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” Spraker said. “I think if we can temporarily reduce the predators I think you’ll get pretty much across the board support on the Kenai and even people who come to the Kenai to hunt, they’re going to realize we’re trying to do the right thing.”

The next Board of Game meeting is in Barrow Nov. 11-14. Two proposals for aerial predator control on the Kenai will be discussed at the meeting. Both focus on eliminating wolves, but also would allow for predator control on bears. Comments on the proposals must be received by Oct. 28.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie