Bill Sherwonit / Commentary / Anchorage Daily News / March 18, 2006
"Effective protests are grounded in a refusal to accept what is normal. We accept a diminished world as normal ... Why is this rage (against the loss of wildness) a silent rage, an impotent protest that doesn't extend beyond the confines of our private world? Why don't people speak out, why don't they do something? ...What is unsettling is that we are all so apathetic."
-- Jack Turner, "The Abstract Wild"
I'm in the midst of re-reading Jack Turner's "The Abstract Wild," and once again I feel my body grow electric with passion. His love for wild creatures and places is my love. His angst is my angst. His desire to make a difference is mine. But what to do?
One reason Turner's words resonate so powerfully is my disgust with Alaska's ongoing -- and steadily expanding -- predator-control program. I almost wrote "wolf control," but our state's organized predator-extermination effort now includes bears. I wonder how many Alaskans know this. Or care.
A few weeks ago, I met with a couple of other Alaskans disgusted by our state's "intensive wildlife-management policy," which basically requires the killing of wolves and bears so that humans have more moose and caribou to hunt. Vic Van Ballenberghe, a widely respected wildlife scientist and former Board of Game member, lamented that any new effort to rally Alaskans in support of wolves and bears would be tremendously difficult.
People have grown numb, Vic said. They're burned out. Twice in recent years, Alaskan voters have loudly and clearly voiced their objection to large-scale, aerial wolf-kill programs. Yet here we are once more, with an even more egregious predator-control program, the worst in decades.
The latest effort to expand Alaska's predator kill-off is happening as I write these words, as the Board of Game -- which these days would more properly be called the Board of Game Farming -- meets in Fairbanks. I stayed away because attending would invite only heartache and anger, as board members play out their dishonest charade. The board is determined to shrink wolf and bear populations, and that's that.
The sad thing, as Vic points out, is that these wolf haters -- I'm convinced that's what they are -- can do whatever they want. They represent the views of Gov. Murkowski, who appointed them, and the Alaska Legislature's most powerful figures. No one in any sort of political leadership role has opposed them, which is depressing in itself. So it appears the only ones who can make a difference are we "commoners," we citizens.
For that reason I applaud anyone who has attended this month's Board of Game meeting and spoken for wolves and bears, or anyone who writes letters or makes calls denouncing current "management" strategies. Still, more is needed. There's the prospect of yet another citizen's initiative, which is hopeful. And we need to vote Murkowski and regressive legislators out of office.
I'm saddened that the loudest voice against Alaska's predator-control program has been raised by Priscilla Feral and her Connecticut group, Friends of Animals. Surely many Alaskans are just as outraged as she. Why are we largely silent? Why do we hide?
I think that one major reason predator-control opponents have been apathetic and indifferent of late is this: the despicable nature of the killing has been largely out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Citizen revolts are most likely when we can see or read first-hand accounts of atrocities; for instance, the media's coverage of physician-hunter Jack Frost and his "mechanical predation" of wolves in the 1980s, or biologist Gordon Haber's snared-wolf video in the nineties. The visceral impact was powerful and motivating.
How do we stir up anger and action today? It might help to start with language. "Control" is such a clean, antiseptic word. But when state policies call for eliminating 85 of 120 wolves -- to give one regional objective -- that's not control. That's a massacre, a slaughter. Board of Game members sometimes talk about the savagery of wolves. But who, really, are the savages here?
Bill Sherwonit is a nature writer who lives in Anchorage.