Rachel D'Oro / AP / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 2, 2005
|Anchorage, Alaska (AP) -- An animal rights group said Tuesday it hoped to collect 28,000 pledges this month in support of an Alaska tourism boycott to protest the state's aerial wolf control program.
Friends of Animals also said it was launching virtual howl-ins to enable supporters to voice their opposition on-line. The Darien, Conn.-based organization has collected about 5,000 signatures at actual howl-ins, or protests, staged across the country since December, said group president Priscilla Feral.
The signatures will be mailed to Gov. Frank Murkowski.
"The goal is to publicize our message to put economic pressure on the Murkowski administration," Feral said. "I admit it's like talking to a cement wall, but money is the only talk you can have with the Murkowski administration."
The group is seeking to have the wolf program - authorized in five sections of the state - suspended until May 16 when the issue is scheduled for trial in Anchorage.
Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason last week refused to issue a temporary injunction in the matter. Gleason said she needed more time to review new concerns raised by the group, which likens to the program to slaughter.
Matt Robus, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said the program will continue to operate as mandated by the state game board.
"The organizations opposed to this have made efforts before, rallying people to their side, and that's within their rights," Robus said. "I suspect it's a pretty good fund-raising opportunity for them, too."
The first such aerial wolf control program in a decade in Alaska was approved by the game board for the McGrath area in 2003. Friends of Animals, which claims 200,000 members, has since staged more than 200 howl-ins promoting its tourism boycott.
Despite those efforts, the state's tourism numbers are climbing. The number of summer visitors to Alaska in 2004 rose from the year before to an estimated 1.4 million people. Alaska's 15 national parks set a record for visits last year as well.
Feral said the rise in visitors is frustrating to her group, but members refuse to be dissuaded from their mission.
"Maybe more people would have visited if not for the public outrage over the issue," she said. "For me, it's not a quick fix. I wish it was. We're just going to keep shedding light on a gruesome issue whatever way we can. It does feel like an uphill battle with the current governor, but even he will eventually be replaced."
Over the next few months, the state has set a goal of killing as many as 610 wolves, with an aim to boost the number of harvestable moose. As of Tuesday, 93 wolves had been killed this winter, said Bruce Bartley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Game. Hunters reported killing 144 wolves last winter in the program's first year.
Under program rules, teams are allowed to shoot wolves from the air in some areas but are required to land and shoot in others. In some areas, they can do both.
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