Former governor Tony Knowles on Alaska's predator policies


During his 1994 to 2002 tenure, former Democratic Alaska governor Tony Knowles implemented non-lethal — albeit expensive — ways to control predator populations in Alaska: Instead of shooting wolves from helicopters, for example, he relocated and sterilized packs that preyed on the caribou herds Alaskans relied on for food. 

Since he’s left office, though, the state’s predator control efforts have grown increasingly lethal. Knowles continues to push for a more moderate approach, chairing the National Parks Advisory Board and testifying against bear snaring. He spoke with High Country News this week about a new National Park Service proposal that will curtail predator control on federal lands. The following is edited for length and clarity.

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles testifies in opposition to bear snaring before the Alaska Board of Game in 2012.
AP Photo/Dan Joling

High Country News How has Alaska’s approach to wildlife management changed in the 12 years since you left office? 

Tony Knowles The most disappointing thing is that the balance of views on the Board of Game has just disappeared. I tried to work with a balanced board that reflected subsistence hunters, sport hunters, guides and conservationists, but now the Board is made up of people who want to make hunting ungulates the priority for wildlife management. There’s been a focused effort to dramatically reduce populations of wolves, coyotes and bears, and the methods and means they’ve used are both unscientific and unethical.

HCN Like what? 

TK Bears. Even though bears are a predator both of moose and caribou, snaring them or killing sows with cubs in their dens to somehow, hopefully increase moose and caribou numbers just doesn’t work. Grizzly bears have one of the slowest reproduction rates of all mammals. It’s so easy to over-harvest them, and that’s just never been part of the Alaska history. When the Board of Game proposed allowing snaring across Alaska, there was a group of wildlife biologists, scientists and researchers that protested snaring as unscientific because you can’t target or differentiate between sows with cubs and male bears. And it’s incredibly inhumane.

HCN Do you think the changes in state policy reflect an overall shift in the attitude toward wildlife in Alaska?

TK I think the vast majority of Alaskans have a respect for all wildlife and certainly the ethics of harvesting. I can remember Jay Hammond, one of the great Alaska governors, when he was a homesteader out in Lake Clark. There was a bounty on wolves, and he was the top bounty collector. But when he was governor, he appointed the first non-consumptive representatives to the Board of Game. People here have always respected that different views can help come to the best solutions on very complex issues.

HCN What would you change right now, if you could?

TK I think we can certainly return to the cooperation between state and federal agencies that worked for a generation. We can recognize that the state currently has predator control laws that are legal and apply to state lands, and that that the national parks system has its own statutes and regulations that protect the diversity of all species. Just because they’re different doesn’t mean we can’t have collaboration.

HCN How will the new proposed rule by the National Park Service change things?

TK Sixty percent of America’s national park land is in Alaska. I think most Americans would be in favor of prohibiting lethal predator control on national preserves, because it favors people who want to hunt caribou and moose over people who just want to enjoy the park in its natural diversity. I think most Americans would be surprised to learn that Alaska has tried to permit killing wolves and coyotes and their pups at a time of year when there’s absolutely no value to the pelts. They’d be surprised that you can kill bear in their dens with artificial light, and bait grizzly bears with donuts and bacon grease, which has never been allowed anywhere. This proposed rule ends that.

Next year, when we’ll be celebrating the centennial of the national park system, I think this rule will serve as a reaffirmation of the values that are so important to our big landscapes and national parks here in Alaska.

Return to:

Sweeping new rule for Alaska’s predator control
High Country News Classifieds