California lawmakers take aim at Alaska's aerial wolf hunts

Aug 10, 2009 By Erika Bolstad

Alaska's predator-control program to kill wolves, which drew renewed national scrutiny last year during former Gov. Sarah Palin's bid for vice president, is under attack again in Congress.

Two Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation that would all but ban the practice of shooting wolves from airplanes to control their numbers. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. George Miller, would force game officials to declare a biological emergency that predicts the imminent collapse of a species without the program.

Even if the state could demonstrate such an emergency, the law would limit aerial hunting to state or federal wildlife employees, barring private contractors, which currently are allowed to kill wolves from fixed-wing airplanes.

"What this bill does is essentially makes it impossible for Alaska to manage in any sort of responsible way," said Pat Valkenburg, the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We finally have a program that works, and to end it because of the emotional feelings of uninformed people is just not a good idea."

Alaska's Board of Game renewed its aerial predator-control effort seven years ago after complaints from hunters that a healthy wolf population was preventing moose and caribou populations from recovering in some areas, including parts of the state where subsistence hunters depend on game for food. Six areas in Alaska -- about 10 percent of the state -- have predator control programs for wolves.

Alaskans have twice voted to ban such hunting, but the state Legislature has overturned those bans both times. Last year, voters turned down a ballot measure that would have severely restricted the aerial hunting program.

The state's aerial program, long the target of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, drew renewed attention last year during Palin's bid for vice president. The governor even mentioned it during her farewell speech, in which she criticized "starlets" such as actress Ashley Judd for lending their fame earlier this year to the movement opposing aerial hunting.

In her resignation speech July 26, Palin told fellow Alaskans to "stick together" in opposing "outside special interest groups," including Defenders of Wildlife and Judd, who appeared in a video decrying aerial hunting.

"Because you're going to see anti-hunting, anti-2nd Amendment circuses from Hollywood," Palin said in her farewell address. "And here's how they do it. They use these delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets. They use Alaska as a fundraising tool for their anti-2nd Amendment causes."

"And by the way," Palin added, "Hollywood needs to know: We eat, therefore we hunt."

In the past, Defenders of Wildlife used its political-action arm to run political ads in Alaska targeting Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young for his record on environmental and renewable-energy issues. Earlier this year, it launched a campaign called Eye on Palin. The campaign Web site, stocked with photos of Palin, included a count of the number of wolves killed in the state's aerial program and another page for donations.

"It is true that Ashley Judd has expressed concern over the aerial gunning of wolves in Alaska," said Robert Dewey, the vice president for government relations at Defenders of Wildlife. "But she's not alone. There are many other voices."

Conservationists say that Palin's turn as the Republican vice-presidential nominee may have helped draw attention to aerial hunting in a way unmatched by the "starlets" she criticized.

"There's no question that Palin's selection for the Republicans elevated the issue to a higher national plane than ever before," said Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

"It cuts both ways," Pacelle added. "It makes it easy for Democrats to support our efforts. But it may taint our efforts with Republicans, because they may consider it a partisan issue. But it's never been a partisan issue. She didn't invent the issue. It's been a troubling aspect of Alaska's wildlife policy for many years."

Alaska's predator-control program long has been a controversial method of managing wildlife, said Ted Williams, a Massachusetts-based outdoors writer who wrote about the Palin administration's approach to predator control in the most recent issue of Audubon Magazine. Williams recalls a 1993 summit at which former Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel said, memorably, "You can't let nature just run wild."

"It has definitely flared up on the national stage before," Williams said. "But Palin has placed it there in a significant way. In a way it's good she attracted national attention to the predator issues with some of her absurd statements."

Williams, himself a hunter, characterized the state's program as a "war on predators" that treats caribou and moose as livestock, not wildlife.

"If you don't shoot a moose out of your truck window in Fairbanks, it's fun to blame it on the wolves," he said.

"No one's trying to eliminate wolves," countered Ted Spraker, the vice chairman of the Alaska Board of Game. "That's as far from the truth as you can imagine. But in some areas and some isolated cases, we have a lot of wolves, and a lot of bears, and not a lot of moose, and a lot of people who depend on moose. It's especially important to subsistence people, who live a subsistence lifestyle."

___

(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau on the World Wide Web at www.mcclatchydc.com

Explore further: Sex? It all started 385 million years ago (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Alaska OKs sale of bear hides

Jan 31, 2006

For the first time in Alaska's history brown bear hides may be legally sold if taken from a 2,700-square-mile northeastern section of the state.

Many in West fear wolf reintroduction

Dec 27, 2005

Some 900 wolves roam Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado thanks to a federal program that reintroduced and protected the wolf in the West.

Feds want wolves taken off endangered list

Feb 02, 2006

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was expected to issue a proposal Thursday removing gray wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species List.

Prey not hard-wired to fear predators

Jun 20, 2007

Are Asian elk hard-wired to fear the Siberian tigers who stalk them? When wolves disappear from the forest, are moose still afraid of them?

Recommended for you

'Red effect' sparks interest in female monkeys

Oct 17, 2014

Recent studies showed that the color red tends increase our attraction toward others, feelings of jealousy, and even reaction times. Now, new research shows that female monkeys also respond to the color red, ...

Roads negatively affect frogs and toads, study finds

Oct 17, 2014

The development of roads has a significant negative and pervasive effect on frog and toad populations, according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers that included undergraduate students and ...

All in a flap: Seychelles fears foreign bird invader

Oct 17, 2014

It was just a feather: but in the tropical paradise of the Seychelles, the discovery of parakeet plumage has put environmentalists in a flutter, with a foreign invading bird threatening the national parrot.

Amphibians being wiped out by emerging viruses

Oct 16, 2014

Scientists tracing the real-time impact of viruses in the wild have found that entire amphibian communities are being killed off by closely related viruses introduced to mountainous areas of northern Spain.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

otto1923
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
Well- there you go! [see ad above] Use UAVs to cull wolves, and also hunt moose. Safer, cleaner, cooler. I guess that's why some wiseguy put the ad there -? In case it disappears- http://www.nitroplanes.com [no I am not a spammer] and synchronicity is not evidence for the existance of God.