Alaskans Don't Want Aerial Wolf Hunts
As the streets of America are filled with talk of democracy and freedom, those very principles of our government are being eroded at an unprecedented level in Alaska. Under the leadership of Gov. Frank Murkowski, we are witnessing the dissolution of our democratic system -- for the people by the people -- throughout the decision-making process of our state government.
Whether it's ignoring public comment, locking the public out of legal challenges to government policy, removing effective systems of checks and balances within state agencies, or overturning public votes, Murkowski and the Legislature have been very busy attacking vital democratic processes.
One of the most blatant cases of disregard for the public involves the same-day airborne hunting law. In 1996, Alaskans overwhelmingly voted to ban the practice of hunters using airplanes to track wolves and then land and shoot them. Because of its harassment, herding and wounding, this controversial practice is considered the most objectionable of all wolf-killing methods. In 2000, the Legislature attempted to overturn that law by passing an amendment allowing hunters to use airplanes to kill wolves in approved predator-control programs. By referendum, this practice was once again soundly rejected by Alaska voters. More recently, a Dittman poll showed that more than 70 percent of Alaskans, including responsible hunters and rural residents, still oppose using airplanes to kill wolves.
Apparently, the Legislature still hasn't gotten the message. Sen. Ralph Seekins and Rep. Hugh Fate have introduced Senate Bill 155 and House Bill 208 that will once again overturn the will of the people and allow for same-day airborne wolf killing. To add salt to the wound, these bills undermine how the state determines the need for predator control by eliminating a provision from current law requiring that moose and caribou populations be on the decline before killing wolves is considered. This essentially means that simple hunter dissatisfaction can bring about predator control regardless of the biological status of predators or prey. This is hardly sound wildlife management.
Senate Bill 155 also completely removes the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's final approval for implementing predator control and leaves sole authority for such programs to the Alaska Board of Game. You know whom I'm talking about -- those "wildlife farmers" who represent the Alaska Trappers Association, extremist hunters of the Alaska Outdoor Council, and a minority of other folks who can't stand wolves or appreciate their contribution to Alaska's healthy ecosystems. Though the bill sponsors claim they are putting science back in charge of wildlife management, eliminating Fish and Game's authority does exactly the opposite. This invasion of executive authority is reason enough for the governor to veto the bill.
Supporters of the bill claim wildlife managers are strapped when it comes to "predator management" and can't conduct predator control under any condition. Not true. In 1996 voters specifically allowed for Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees to conduct predator control using aircraft in cases of a biological emergency. Under current law, they still have this authority.
Surprisingly, the majority of our representatives support this bill, with a goal to get it passed this session so Alaska's skies can be filled with "certified airborne gunners" killing wolves from airplanes this fall, using the terminology of Sen. Seekins. And with it could come tourism boycotts, referendums and other desperate measures by the public to get the Legislature to listen to Alaskans on their decision to ban this practice.
At a time when our state's leaders need the support and trust of the public more than ever, it is important that they reciprocate by honoring one of the few requests on wildlife issues ever made by the public -- that being a prohibition on the use of aircraft by hunters to kill wolves.
Karen Deatherage represents the Anchorage office of Defenders of Wildlife. She was involved in the 2000 referendum to overturn a law bringing back same-day airborne wolf hunting. For more information on aerial wolf killing, visit www.defenders.org/wildlife/wolf/alaska/hunting.html
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670