Will the Alaska Board of Game outlaw domestic sheep and goats?
Proposition 64 (previously Prop90) has been resurrected, and will be addressed at the November meeting of the Board of Game. The specific proposal is here: 2017-2018 Board of Game Proposal Book Under "Permits for Possessing Live Game" scroll down to Page 80 to read for yourself. This proposal was shelved last year, and re-emerges again for the upcoming meeting.
What has changed since the last time this topic came to the forefront of public attention? Not much. The working group (consisting of local producers, a DOA observer, Alaska Farm Bureau member, AWSF and others) meets occasionally. Seemingly not much progress has been made, and little is heard, except to concede to controversial testing on a limited number of domestic sheep and goats. The methodology, and reporting, of these voluntary tests have created yet another fracture in the farming community.
Without going over the details of the disease, or testing for m. Ovi, it helps to understand this: In the L48, m. Ovi has been blamed for the demise of herds, and major die offs within established ranges there. The actual science of this assumption has not been proven, since other factors are commonly present when m. Ovi seems to overcome or contribute to an animals' death. In fear of the same fate happening to the treasured trophy sheep and goats in Alaska, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and it's Alaska chapter, are aggressively attempting to outlaw (literally) domestic sheep and goats. Because...well, guides/hunting lodges, and so on....and a wealthy client list of same. What percentage of positive exposure tests, is acceptable to the sponsor of the proposal? Our bet: Absolutely zero.
None of the wrong headed proposed requirements have any solid scientific backing, and in fact, the demand for a 15 mile "set back" from habitat is preposterous-when you remember that the state has not even established habitat or range. 15 air miles from where? The tree line on our major mountain ranges? Not an accurate boundary, proven as recently as last summer when one was seen in downtown Palmer-negating the "natural boundaries" argument as well. Are domestic sheep and goats even co-mingling anywhere? It's not known, although it might be argued that pack goats could, in theory, pose a risk. But these Alaska flocks are not free ranged, as on grazing leases in the L48. Here, our predator risk is very high and very real.
So, imagine the Alaska State Fair without sheep or goats. No bright eyed, hard working 4-H kids with market lambs, rams, and goats. No more goat milk soaps at all the small farmers' markets, no more succulent lamb chops, lovingly and carefully raised by people you know. No fiber arts from local fleeces, made into stunning outerwear and felted onto canvas. No backyard does providing allergen free milk for families in need, And that's just for the 15 mile restriction.
Think that's a crazy thing? Well, it is! The proposed changes include state permits, mandatory testing, and double fencing, at minimum. It will drive many families to abandon small livestock raising altogether, further hampering Alaska's ability to feed itself. Removing domestic animals from the "clean list" is a very slippery slope, and could easily lead to seizure of private property in the future.....even other species. Bird flu, anyone?
What is even crazier is that the DOA, yes, that agency-with it's carefully selected golden boy at the helm-is seemingly completely absent from any and all discussions about this matter. Yes, they have a "representative" at the *closed door meetings* the working group has....but there has been no hue or cry given, no alarm about eliminating an entire segment of Alaska farming, no nothing. Epic fail on the part of Dear Director.
Also an epic fail, that the state even allowed 1) a working group in the first place, and 2) evidently allows a game board-with no farmers on it-to dictate to *all* residents on domestic livestock, and 3) Seemingly has no problem with all this happening behind closed doors.
The testing mentioned above, is voluntary. Detractors are certain that *any* positive will give AWSF the ammo it needs to outlaw their domestic flocks. Supporters are fearful that if they don't join, the same result will occur. There is no Plan B, no other options, and no way to even force the Board, or anyone else, to even map or identify the "habitat" that wild sheep and goat occupy in the State.
Epic fail, all around. And no good outcome appears likely. Of course, it would be wonderful if certain other Alaskans picked up clarion call of distress, and helped to fight back against Outside influences. People like the owners of MMM&S, MQM, Rocket Ranch, MVM, even Denali Meat Co. Every slaughterhouse owner or investor, should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the local livestock producers. Every retail butcher shop owner should be as well....They *all* need the product our locals raise, especially for their ethnic customers.
That too, will be an epic fail.
So enjoy those photo ops and petting zoos while you can, because it is possible they will disappear from the Alaskan landscape forever, especially with the AWSF making sure that our more rural areas are declared "domestic free". Because while the WSF, and it's Alaska chapter, are making sure the wheel is spinning with a "working group", they have been busy in the Bush, selling their fears to native groups. It's working, too.