Public Group Requests Audit of Federal Grants to Department of Fish and Game

Jul 3, 2014

An environmental advocacy group is trying to change the way the state of Alaska deals with predatory species in the wild.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, filed an official complaint with the US Department of Interior Office of Inspector General.  PEER is a group of lawyers nationwide that advocate for the environment.  The complaint says the state of Alaska is misusing Federal-Aid funding under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to support Alaska’s predator management program. The Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 enforced 11% tax on the wholesale price for long guns and ammunition and 10% of wholesale price for handguns.

Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game

In 1994, the Alaska legislature passed the Intensive Management Law.  It requires the Alaska Board of Game “identify moose, caribou, and deer populations that are especially important food sources for Alaskans, and to insure that these populations remain large enough to allow for adequate and sustained harvest.”  Intensive Management, a term that some proponents of PEER say is a euphemism for predator control, restricts hunting seasons and bag limits, evaluates habitats and controlling the population of predators-- that last one is the controversial topic. 

In the year 2013, 207 wolves, 165 black bears and 11 brown bears were killed by the federal predatory control program.  Independent conservation biologist Rick Steiner says the predator control portion of the Intensive Management Law uses state employees and contract shooters to hunt from helicopters for wolves and bears that could potentially harm populations of moose, caribou and deer.

“There are about eight areas in the state of Alaska, constituting about 10 percent of the total area of the state in which the state department of Fish and Game conducts this intensive management process.  In some areas they want to eliminate predators entirely in order to boost caribou and moose populations.”

Steiner says that most scientist and wildlife biologists don’t believe that predator control is effective. 

“In some areas they’ve done wolf control for seven or eight years and there’s more wolves now in these areas than when they first started.  So one it doesn’t work, it doesn’t achieve the objectives often that they desire.  And secondly it does not look at the broader ecological context and the ecosystem effects of removing black bears and brown bears and wolves from these areas and what the long term consequences may be.”

The complaint PEER issued centers around the money being used for predator control.  The group states the IM reports provide an explanation of the spending and claim research that is “beneficial” but separate from the IM program cost. PEER says the claims have “no basis in reality in that these research projects are unquestionably integral to conducting IM and furtherance of IM is their primary objective.”

“The state loves doing it.  There’s some archaic management philosophies within the state of Alaska and a lot of it is driven by a few vested interested groups; the Alaska Outdoor Council, sportsman for Fish and Wildlife and such. The Board of Game is comprised of hunters and trappers.  There’s no non-consumptive wild life users on the board of game.  So there’s a failure in process there.  The system is certainly rigged against ecosystem wildlife management and we’ve known that for years.”

Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation for the Department of Fish and Game Douglas Vincent-Lang says the Board of Game is obligated to maintain a population of moose, caribou and deer high enough to meet the demand of hunters and sustainable living styles.

“Let’s use the western Alaska caribou herd.  That herd is at 230,000 animals right now.  The board set up an intensive management objective of 200,000 for that herd.  If the population   falls below 200,000 the department has to come back to the board and say what steps we are going to take to make that population above 200,000 to be able to meet the local and general demand in that area of the state.”

Vincent-Lang says there are several different methods to increase a population without controlling predators.  However, if the best method for the particular issue is to kill predators, the department will be sure to not kill too many bears or wolves.  He says no federal money goes to paying for predator control.

“We assess what’s limiting those things.  But if we are actually doing intensive management, the actual activity of going out and killing predators, that’s done with state general funds.  So we are fairly confident that we’ve got a bright line in the sand stocks that are important to hunters with PR funds and the actual intensive management which are funded with state dollars.”

And that’s the issue. PEER wants the Department of Fish and Game to be audited to prove whether or not the department is using federal funds towards IM.  The group says in the 2014 fiscal year, Alaska received more than one million dollars for wildlife research.  However, PEER says the money went towards the majority of the total state predator control annual costs of $1.4 million. 

PEER wants to see Alaska debarred from receiving future grants and create legislation to prevent future issues.