The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge/U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service has once again usurped the authority of the State of Alaska, Department of Fish and Game management. They have closed the brown bear season on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) indefinitely. With biological concerns that are blatantly untrue if not insulting, the KNWR has chosen to fly in the face of state game management once again. Public hearings garnered significant opposition to the closure but testifying to KNWR/USF&W has become a waste of time. No one there is listening. The real question is why? The reasons they cite for the closure have no biological credibility, which unless they are functionally incompetent, they know. So why; and more important, what comes next.
The now 2 million acre KNWR has a long and storied history of use by local hunters and non-resident hunters. I started hunting the refuge in 1971, when it was still the Kenai National Moose Range. Back then hunting was embraced by the USFW, no one suspected the refuge would be slowly and systematically closed to access and means and methods and most important, be contrary to Alaska game regulations.
For lack of a better explanation, it is evidently to appease the growing number of folks from other places who want to look at bears. The KNWR claims thousands of visitors to their facility each year. Funny how I have been at refuge headquarters many times over the years and the only people I ever see are other hunters, trappers, or personal use firewood gatherers there to acquire the requisite permits to engage in pursuits of their choosing on the refuge. I suppose these claims justify the 10 million dollar expenditure for the new refuge building. In the meantime in spite of orders from recent past presidents, including President Obama, to enhance hunting and fishing opportunities on refuge lands, the USFW is going the opposite direction.
Perhaps this is in part because of the lack of a really significant number of hunters beating down the doors to voice their concerns and opinions to the refuge. Truth is, many hunters, myself included, could go the rest of our lives and be perfectly content to never kill another brown bear. Thus most probably feel like it isn’t that big of deal. Truthfully, it isn’t in a very small way. In a much larger way, that is the future of Alaskans rights to hunt these millions of acres, it is huge.
Refuge policies that refuse to enhance moose habitat or curtail predator numbers have all but eliminated moose hunting (the very reason this refuge exists). Even when funding and labor is offered they refuse to allow this in favor of “natural diversity.” In that regard it has been easy to eliminate hunters by simply allowing attrition to take its toll. Course they were not planning on the nice wildfire this past spring that will at least enhance some moose habitat and allow some legitimate hunting. The ironic part of all of this being the continued mis-management of refuge lands will end with no viable wildlife populations for anyone to view.
That this issue is localized to the Kenai Peninsula is perhaps another reason more hunters are not demanding a different answer. It is awfully easy to ignore things that have no immediate affect on our own lives. But the long term significance of all of this should not be ignored. Once a president is set; how much longer will it be before other areas of the state may be affected? Something to think about and if you care, get vocal about.
On the upside, waterfowl populations seem to be enjoying a rather good year. Lots of mallards, pintails, widgeon, and teal for the taking. Geese also seem to be in good numbers although I haven’t personally hunted them yet this year. We spent four days in the Redoubt Bay Special Habitat Area last week. The hunting was terrific as it virtually always is. What was bothersome was the lack of other waterfowl hunters using the area. The first two days (Friday and Saturday) we heard no other shots, Sunday there were about 10 shots and Monday there were again, none. It seems every year the number of waterfowl hunters accessing this area is dwindling . In the early eighties when I frst started hunting there every cabin was occupied with hunters on every viable weekend. I wonder what has happened. Is it the older hunters have abandoned the pursuit and no one has taken heir place? Perhaps it is the cost as it is a bit expensive to hunt the area but duck hunters the world over are known for spending more money per individual hunter than any other form of hunting. It is a concern if for no other reason than traditional use plays a role in management decisions on state land. It would be a shame to see this area turned into a viewing sanctuary for lack of interest by hunters.
In Oregon the Animal Defense Fund has successfully negotiated a settlement in a suite over a coyote killing contest which will eliminate future such activity. While I never like to see the anti crowd win I also have never felt the killing of animals should be so petty and meaningless so I guess I think maybe this time it is a good thing.