Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wolf "Researcher" Probably Dead

This evening I've been following a fast breaking news story in Alaska media. A Cessna 185 carrying Dr. Gordon Haber and his pilot was reported missing last night. This evening the wreckage of the aircraft was spotted, and State Troopers who hiked into the scene reported that the burned out wreckage contained human remains. It is most likely that Dr. Haber and his pilot have both been killed.

Although Dr. Haber claimed he was an "independent researcher", the jury in a year 2000 lawsuit found that Dr. Haber was actually an employee of the animal rights organization Friends of Animals and information on his website indicates that his work was funded solely by FoA to this day.

Dr. Haber has been a controversial figure in Alaska wildlife politics for quite a long time. Many have alleged that Dr. Haber's work has been unduly influenced by his political views and that his bias is so strong that his research is essentially useless.

My personal opinion is that Dr. Haber was a probably not a particularly good or reliable scientist, but he was nonetheless an important figure in Alaskan wildlife management issues. By challenging the work done by his scientific colleagues, Dr. Haber accomplished several things. He kept wolf research in the news, bringing outside scrutiny of results compiled by government employed biologists. Nothing promotes careful workmanship like outside scrutiny.

Haber rarely "made news" with his scientific work, but he was frequently in the spotlight for his activism. His videotape of a grisly attempt by an ADF&G employee attempt to dispatch a snared wolf lead to the suspension of predator control projects in the early 1990s, and his release of a legally trapped wolf led to a successful suit against Dr. Haber and his employer. Dr. Haber did things that are hard to ignore.

Dr. Haber may have been a bit misguided, but he was entertaining and I'm actually going to miss him. I believe that while predator control projects are sometimes necessary, they are also sometimes overdone. If he did nothing else, Dr. Haber forced us to take a second or third look at such projects, and as I noted before - nothing promotes careful workmanship quite like outside scrutiny.

OK - I'm sorry, but I just can't resist this one. I have to say it. Dr. Haber made an impact on wildlife management practices in Alaska. It's too bad that his last moment in life was also the result of an impact on Alaska.

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