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Truth in Numbers

Editorial Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 22, 2005

Apparently there's mischief afoot somewhere regarding the number of public comments the governor's office has received--or is supposed to have received--regarding the state's wolf control program.

Truth is, it's difficult to know for sure just how many comments have been received in the highly emotional debate over the decision to thin Alaska's wolf population to benefit moose and subsequently humans. All people can do is be skeptical of what one side or the other says or have absolute trust in what they hear from one or the other.
The latest in the running dispute over the numbers came Monday, when the Daily News-Miner published a column by the head of Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, the principal opponent of the state's wolf management efforts. In the column, Friends president Priscilla Feral quoted an Anchorage television station as reporting the state has received "hundreds of thousands of mostly negative comments" about the wolf program. She also said that Friends of Animals ordered 200,000 postcards in late 2003 and that these were given to people to sign and send to the governor to express their opposition.

To the first point, data provided by the governor's office last week indicates the state received 196,499 comments--via e-mail, the Public Opinion Message system, letters and Friends of Animals postcards--and that a clear majority opposed the state's wolf program. Readers will need to decide for themselves if this constitutes "hundreds of thousands."

Just as important, however, is that a large number of the e-mails, which account for the bulk of the comments, are essentially Internet form letters. The Friends of Animals Web site presently has a brief form letter, a two-sentence postcard really, that describes the state's wolf program as "an ethical outrage and national disgrace" and on which the signer pledges to boycott travel to Alaska until the program is canceled. This, of course, assumes these signers planned to visit the state anyway.

A couple of clicks and the presumably heartfelt sentiment is on its way to Juneau.

To the second point, Ms. Feral accuses the governor's office of under-reporting, or simply not counting or otherwise ignoring, the 200,000 postcards her group ordered printed. The governor's office reports receiving 1,544 Friends of Animals postcards in late 2003, 38,250 in 2004, and 1,116 so far in 2005. That's 40,910 out of 200,000, just over one-fifth of the total and hardly a resounding endorsement of the group's point of view. So who to believe here?

But did Friends of Animals actually send the postcards? Doesn't seem so. Ms. Feral allowed last week that many were given to people who said they were going to sign and send them. There's no guarantee they did so, however, so accusing the governor's office of misrepresenting the number received seems inappropriate.

The point here? Gauging the actual response to the Friends of Animals anti-wolf control campaign and the sincerity of the people who submit automated e-mail comments of opposition is difficult at best and most likely will never be known with any certainty.


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