SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

DOI IG to audit possible use of federal funds by State for predator control

By Rick Steiner


December 22, 2015
Tuesday AM

(SitNews) The U.S, Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Inspector General (IG) announced Monday (attached) that in its upcoming 5-year audit of annual funding provided by DOI to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG), it will address issues raised in a complaint filed last year that Alaska is using federal funds to support its controversial predator control program, in direct violation of federal policy.

The annual federal funding is provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (DOI) through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Wildlife Restoration Act, this year totaling over $51 million to Alaska. This federal funding provides the majority of the ADFG Division of Wildlife Conservation annual budget. The IG complaint was filed June 30, 2014 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in Washington DC.

Each year the Alaska predator control - "Intensive Management" (IM) - program reports killing about 200 wolves, 160 black bears, and 10 brown bears, some being shot by state biologists from aircraft. In some areas, the state's goal is to eliminate wolves and bears entirely. A 2014 analysis found that Alaska spends from $1.1 million - $1.4 million per year of state funds for its predator control program.

The stated objective of Alaska's predator control program is to reduce predators to boost moose, caribou and other ungulate populations for hunters. But the program is often ineffective, scientifically questionable, and highly controversial. Many Alaskans had hoped that the new Walker administration would end, or at least review and restrict, the IM program, but this has not occurred.

For instance, earlier this year, state biologists in a helicopter shot and killed all eleven members of the Lost Creek wolf family group from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, as the group crossed the boundary of the preserve into one of the state's IM areas. The Lost Creek wolf family group had been studied for 20 years by National Park Service biologists, but were entirely eliminated by ADFG biologists in just a day.

Regarding federal wildlife restoration funds given annually to the state, it is the strict policy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service that:

"Federal Aid funds may not be used for wildlife damage management activities, including removal or control of predatory, nuisance, or depredating animals...."

In April 2014, I submitted a FOIA request to USFWS seeking documents to determine what amount, if any, of these federal funds had been used improperly by ADFG for its predator control program. While ADFG contends that "no federal funds are used for actual wolf or bear control," the project documents produced through the FOIA show that a substantial amount of the federal aid funding is used to support the state’s predator control program, in direct violation of federal policy.

At least half of the federally funded ADFG project descriptions cite wildlife surveys to monitor effects of predator control, with a common refrain: "assessing the success of predator management programs involving [wolves, bears, caribou, moose, sheep, goats, etc.]." Some of the federally funded projects conduct surveys to locate predators (wolves and bears) which are then killed in the IM program. One survey project states that its findings are "paramount to...maintaining the public and scientific communities' confidence in ADF&G's ability to successfully conduct a wolf control program."

Much of the research and aerial surveys conducted by ADFG, and funded by the federal Pittman-Robertson funds, are used specifically to justify use of predator control, assess the effects of predator control, locate predator dens, radio-collar wolves and bears allowing them and others to be tracked for elimination in predator control efforts, and to pay salaries of staff that conduct the effort. The federal money may not buy the bullets, but it pays for much of the rest of the Alaska predator control program. Without the annual federal funding, the state's IM program would be cost-prohibitive, particularly with reduced state budgets at present.

Based on this analysis, a formal complaint was filed with the DOI Inspector General on June 30, 2014 by PEER (PDF), requested the Inspector General to:

“...audit the use of Federal-Aid dollars by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) in order to identify non-compliant expenditures, obtain reimbursement of those non-complaint funds, and disqualify ADFG from further Federal-Aid funding.”

The PEER complaint identifies several non-compliant uses by Alaska of federal funds in support of the state's IM program, and requests that DOI identify all non-compliant uses via an audit, require the State of Alaska to refund all such improper expenditures, and debar the state from receiving future federal Pitman-Robertson fund transfers until the issue is fully resolved.

This would cost the State of Alaska $ tens of millions in annual federal funding to ADFG, at a time when the state can ill-afford to lose such funding.

In the December 17th letter to PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, the DOI IG promises that, in its 2016 (FY2017) audit, it will:

“ensure that our audit of the State of Alaska includes specific tests to address the concerns outlined in your [June 30, 2014] letter.”

The IG audit and sanctions could unravel financing for Alaska’s controversial predator control program. And, the use of federal funds in the state’s predator control program now jeopardizes the main funding source for all wildlife management by the state.

The PEER complaint also asks the IG to look into this same issue in other western states that conduct predator control programs.

The U.S. Department of Interior and State of Alaska have known about this improper use of federal funds for years, but both have turned a blind eye. Many feel it is scandalous that federal funds are used to support the shooting of wolves and bears from aircraft, etc., and are confident that the "creative accounting" used by the state to conceal this improper use of federal funds will be revealed with clarity by the IG audit.

Many scientists and Alaska citizens feel that Alaska should end its unscientific, ineffective, controversial, and costly predator control program entirely. It is hoped that this upcoming federal audit, and threat of losing substantial federal funding to the state, may represent the long-awaited nail in the coffin for this program.

In advance of the federal audit, it would be prudent for ADFG to immediately suspend its predator control program (so as not to run the reimbursement bill higher), and to conduct its own internal review of its use of these federal funds.

Rick Steiner
Professor (Univ. of Alaska, retired)
Oasis Earth
Anchorage, Alaska

Received December 17, 2015 - Published December 22, 2015

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