(preface: this piece below was intended for print elsewhere, but I decided to post it here instead, since it's written for Alaskan hunters.)
Most of the the controversial issues before us now, such as more draw hunts, more restrictions (like the new Nelchina Tier II "income" criteria), widespread predator control of wolves and bears, Controlled Use Areas, and problems with regulating the transporter and guide industry....all center around allocation concerns.
The demand for moose and caribou and sheep in various areas has far exceeded the available supply. This conundrum is something biologists, ADFG managers, our Board of Game, and our Advisory Committees must deal with on a continual basis. Demand demand demand! How do we satisfy all these dang hunters?
Well of course the first thing that comes to mind is to increase the supply of available game animals when possible. In fact, this is mandated by law in certain Intensive Management (IM) areas, and biologists and managers are forced to figure out ways to meet the IM harvest and population objectives. But even though we may be able to increase the supply in some cases (with controlled burns to improve moose forage, or widespread predator control), and thus increase our human share of the overall ungulate and sheep pie, the actual demand still exceeds that supply. And in my view, increasing the supply in an attempt to maximize the opportunity and satisfaction (demand) of a user group like hunters is really not in our overall long-term best interest.
Our IM population goals call for irruption densities of ungulates. Our IM harvest goals also require irruption densities of hunters to harvest all those animals. And therein lies the real danger; the habitat in many cases can't absorb such huge numbers of hunters and their means of access, and the very nature of the hunt is changed as well. For example, biologists and managers know we have a problem with atv/orv abuse off the Taylor Highway in Unit 20E. Yet the IM population and harvest goals there would increase this user group exponentially, and even if just the median harvest goal for moose and caribou is reached it would take 8,000+ hunters to accomplish such a harvest. That's nearly one-tenth of all licensed hunters in Alaska. Don't get me wrong, not saying atvs/orvs are bad, but that the old saw about "everything in moderation" rings true here too. We already have a problem with too many and too much in that area, yet we are trying to increase it to satisfy the demands of hunters. Maybe hunters on the whole are just demanding too much.
What's horribly ironic is that hunters are willing to accept habitat damage from overuse, access abuse, and overpopulations of ungulates as an acceptable byproduct of our demand for higher success rates/higher density of prey animals. Hunters also tend to confound and confuse things by well-meaning phrases like, "Look, we all want the same thing, more opportunities to hunt." That is exactly the problem; asking for more opportunities equates to more demand, and more demand often equates to extremes. Heck, demanding more opportunities to hunt often results in controlled-use areas, draw hunts, and more complicated Tier hunts. We aren't putting the overall resource first - the habitat and game - rather, we are often putting ourselves first without consideration to the resource.
Just as we grow accustomed to more traffic in our cities and burbs, more crowding, so too are we becoming accustomed to more hunters in the field, and even coming to accept such crowding as being "okay" if it means we have a better chance at harvesting an animal. Twenty years ago, the bush pilots I knew would not have landed to drop off hunters if they saw you had a camp set up - nowadays it isn't uncommon for two, three, or more groups to be dropped off in the same exact spot by the same, or different, transporters, or too many guides and transporters working one GUA to come to fisticuffs or worse on some remote airstrip or gravel bar. We've all heard the stories and we all know we have a problem. Too many hunters, not enough game, and some in the industry only out for short-term bucks who don't consider the long-term repercussions to flooding an area with hunters when they can just move onto another area after wiping that one out. And I'm certainly not saying that the majority of transporters and/or guides are bad...but again, everything in moderation.
Will we ever come to a consensus and choose to limit ourselves or limit our means of access? Will the newly reinstated Big Game Commercial Services Board really crack down on the problems within the transporter and guide industry and start limiting those groups to some extent? Not unless enough of us work together and compromise on just what our priority should be over the long haul as Alaskans and as hunters.
As hunters, we are supposed to be conservationists and wise stewards of our public lands. It's 2007, the new millennium, and there are few areas left in the world with such public-lands hunting opportunities in wild places that we have right now in Alaska. We are blessed to have this, and it's why many of us choose to live here. Who doesn't value and appreciate the feeling of being out in the wilderness where the noise of the cities is all but absent? Or seeing a monster grizzly track in the mud, or the howling of wolves? For many, this is in large part why we hunt; it is part of the overall Alaska experience and an important facet of every memorable moose or caribou or sheep hunt.
For many of us, 'combat fishing' is not acceptable - we will not participate in that kind of fishing because it doesn't meet our expectations of what fishing is about. I've been on the Russian River; wondered just how anglers "adapted" to such a thing as that. Yet we are moving more and more toward a 'combat hunting' scenario too in many areas, and I sense this as becoming acceptable among a large segment of hunters. It's a fatalistic "that's just the way it is" attitude, but it doesn't have to be that way.
We've got it all, still...and unless we recognize just how valuable what we have is, and why we should work to pass this on to future generations, we're screwed...cuz it isn't really the "antis" who are our enemy. The enemy is ourselves and our own greed.
So I'm asking other hunters to think on all this, and think about putting conservation and stewardship first. Abundance of game is great, and I'm for it, but abundance-based management shouldn't be about "maximum" abundance, neither in the amount of ungulates and sheep nor in the amount of hunters in the field. If we do not achieve some kind of consensus in future on allocation concerns, and on our real role as hunters, we will change the nature of many Alaskan hunts, damage habitat, skew total ecosystem dynamics, and leave our grandkids a far different Alaskan backcountry hunting experience than we have now.
The first step in overcoming an addiction, as they say, is to admit you have a problem. The first step in any solution to the issues that face us now in the hunting community is to admit we have a problem as well. I don't have the answers. But what I believe to be a sound strategy for the future is moderation across the board. Moderation in wildlife management, moderation in how we access the backcountry, moderation in how many hunters we put in the field if we're a guide or transporter, and moderation that leads to our grandkids having the same hunting opportunities we have now.