Now then: Our own Governor Dunleavy has floated a plan to transplant Alaska’s only native deer, the Sitka Blacktail, into the Matanuska valley and our own Susitna valley. The problem is, it probably wouldn’t work. Excerpt:
The idea came from Gov. Mike Dunleavy: “Establish a huntable population of Sitka black-tailed deer in the Mat-Su,” according to the first page of an internal state report.
In a populous part of Alaska that climate change will warm in the decades ahead, an established deer population might provide a new source of food and wildlife viewing for residents without the means to fly or boat around the islands and coastlines where the elusive ungulates live, according to the administration.
“The governor has directed his commissioners and other officials to look into a host of game enhancement opportunities, including the relocation of species for hunting,” said a statement emailed from deputy press secretary Patty Sullivan. “The creation of new hunting opportunities is a priority of the governor’s.”
I don’t much care for the idea of spending taxpayer dollars to “create new hunting opportunities” in a state already replete with such opportunities, although I will admit that even a big Sitka buck would be a lot easier to handle than a 1,200 pound moose. But here’s the real onion:
“All ADF&G deer managers and biologists agree that an SBD (Sitka black-tailed deer) introduction is unlikely to succeed in the Mat-Su,” according to the scoping report.
“The Mat-Su is far colder than anywhere within the SBD’s current winter range with mean daily maximum temperatures far below freezing from November through February,” it adds. “It is unlikely SBD can live in the Mat-Su under normal winter conditions.”
The report goes on to explain how deer survive winters in mountainous coastal environments: forest canopies prevent snow from deeply covering forage, and after big snow events the deer can descend toward shore areas to look for more food, even eating kelp on Kodiak beaches to avoid starvation.
“Kelp is rare to nonexistent in the Mat-Su valley,” the authors note.
What’s more, deep snow pack and relatively spare tree cover is likely to leave the deer’s main food supplies buried too long for them to survive through the year.
There is also the question of predators: The valleys of Southcentral Alaska have a lot of them: “Wolves, black bears, brown bears, coyotes and others (e.g. lynx, wolverines, and feral or free-roaming dogs),” the document says. “In years of heavy snow, limited mobility of SBD could lead to higher predation rates by wolves or coyotes.”
When it comes to hunting, Governor Dunleavy is one of us; he hunts and, from what I read about him, always has, but that’s hardly unusual here in the Great Land. And I appreciate having a Governor who is very friendly to hunters and gun owners, which wasn’t the case any longer in the Colorado that we departed a year ago.
But in this case, the Gov should listen to the wildlife biologists who are educated in the field and experienced in dealing with Alaska wildlife. This is what we pay them for. Governor Dunleavy should abandon this plan as a bad idea and a waste of taxpayer money.