As spring arrived in southwestern Alaska, a handful of people from the state Department of Fish and Game rose early and climbed into small airplanes. As the crew flew, it watched for the humped shape of brown bears lumbering across the hummocks. When someone spotted one, skinny from its hibernation, the crew called in the location to waiting helicopters carrying shooters armed with 12-gauge shotguns.
While last year’s bear killings were particularly egregious, similar cullings have gone largely unnoticed. State data shows over 1,000 wolves and 3,500 brown and black bears have been killed since 2008 alone. In 2016, for example, the federal government shared radio tag information with the state, which used it to kill wolves when they left the safety of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve — destroying so many packs that it ended a 20-year study on predator-prey relationships. “There weren’t enough survivors to maintain a self-sustaining population,” recounted an investigation by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The nearby caribou herd still failed to recover.