Animal Rights Group Preparing for Possible Tourism Boycott


Mary Pemberton / Associated Press / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 4, 2003


ANCHORAGE

An animals rights group will go forward with a national tourism boycott of Alaska if it fails to win a lawsuit to stop hunters from shooting wolves from airplanes, its president said Thursday.

Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, said she dreaded organizing a tourism boycott but would do it if it would pressure Alaska into ending its aerial wolf control program.

"It is a lot of work and upsets a lot of people," Feral said of a boycott, as she prepared to leave Alaska after participating in a wolf control debate here to be aired on television. "But the goal here is to change public policy and put pressure on the people responsible for establishing it. That is the Murkowski administration."

Gov. Frank Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the governor appreciates the importance of tourism to Alaska, but isn't overly concerned about a boycott. He said it seems as if other states can do much more with predator control than Alaska without drawing national attention.

"Alaska seems to be under the microscope," Manly said. "In Alaska, moose and caribou are our livestock. ... We are just trying to protect our livestock like any other state."

Tourism is a nearly $2 billion business in Alaska, according to 2001 estimates, the latest date for which numbers are available.

Feral has faced down Alaska governors before. Her group, which has about 200,000 members nationwide, was behind a successful tourism boycott a decade ago that resulted in then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel imposing a moratorium on wolf control in 1992. During that boycott, Friends of Animals launched 53 demonstrations called "howl-ins" in 51 cities around the country.

She said she has not heard from Gov. Frank Murkowski this time around. But she said when he was a U.S. senator _ during the last boycott _ he sent her a letter threatening to round up the wolves and set them free on the streets of Manhattan.

Manly said he wasn't aware of any such letter but would do some checking. He called Chuck Kleeschulte, who was Murkowski's spokesman when he was a senator. Kleeschulte said he didn't recall the letter, but he said if the senator wrote it he probably didn't tell the media.

Superior Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason was expected to decide this week whether to issue a preliminary injunction sought by Friends of Animals, along with seven Alaska plaintiffs, to stop the aerial wolf control program approved last month by the Board of Game.

Feral said she would be "thrilled" if the judge ruled in Friends of Animals' favor, but even if she did, it probably would not put an end to the fight.

"I anticipate this will not be the end of the face-off on the issue of wolf control. The state is going to continue to push these pogroms _ I call them pogroms _ if they can get away with it."

Before Alaska statehood in 1959, shooting wolves from airplanes was common practice. Aerial sport hunting was banned in 1972 but the law allowed aerial shooting for predator control.

Alaska voters in 1996 and 2000 banned a similar practice known as land-and-shoot hunting.

Feral said state Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, whose legislation made possible aerial wolf control near McGrath this winter, holds Draconian views. Seekins and Feral squared off during a debate between wolf advocates and predator control proponents to be aired Dec. 12 on ARCS, the Alaska Rural Communications Service. No dates have been set for broadcast in urban areas.

"It is not snow removal," Feral said of Seekins' attitude toward wolves. "That is how he approaches free-living animals, as if they were snow removal."

The aerial wolf control program is intended to increase the moose population in the Interior town of McGrath so that its 470 residents have more moose to eat. The town is off the road system and about 300 air miles from large grocery and department stores in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Gleason last week issued a temporary restraining order after the state gave the OK to three teams of pilots and hunters to begin shooting wolves. A five-hour hearing was held Tuesday on whether she should grant the preliminary injunction.

The judge said her role is not to decide whether Alaska should have an aerial wolf control program or not, but to determine if the Board of Game acted legally in establishing it.

The state called Matt Robus, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, to testify. He said while there are more moose in the McGrath area than previously thought but they are not in areas where hunters can easily get to them.

Robus said harvest objectives have not been met in McGrath for years.

During the hearing, plaintiffs' lawyer James Reeves said he didn't know why more moose weren't being harvested near McGrath.

"Admittedly people have to go out and find the moose," he said.

State lawyer Kevin Saxby bristled at that remark, saying it wasn't right to insinuate that the problem was lazy hunters.
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