Alaska's controversial aerial wolf-kill programs are
winding down for the winter, but the public opinion battle
over predator control shows no signs of abating.
The national animal-protection group Defenders of Wildlife
ran a series of newspaper ads in Alaska and Outside slamming
game management in the state.
The ad campaign drew a rare rebuke from state officials for
being inaccurate and misleading.
The state's new wolf-kill programs prompted a scathing editorial
from The New York Times.
A group that unsuccessfully sued to stop lethal predator-control
efforts last year has taken a new legal tack that could force
state officials to justify their wolf-control methods in front
of a jury.
frustrating," said Matt Robus, head of the state's Division
of Wildlife Conservation. "We don't dispute at all the
controversial nature of this. All we ask is the real facts
be the things we debate."
spokeswoman Karen Deatherage countered that if anyone is guilty
of spinning the facts, it's the state.
have misinformed the public by just providing snippets of
information," she said. "That's what Defenders wanted
to do, was provide the public with what's really going on
in the Lower 48, wolf populations in Alaska have never been
threatened or endangered. The Alaska Department of Fish and
Game estimates a statewide population that is growing slightly
and now numbers 8,000 to 11,000 animals.
1,500 wolves are killed in Alaska every year, mostly by trappers.
Sport hunting is allowed but makes up only a small percentage
of the harvest, Fish and Game spokesman Bruce Bartley said.
It's almost impossible for hunters on the ground to find and
track wolves, he said.
hunting ended in 1972, when Congress passed the federal Airborne
Hunting Act. And Alaskans voted, in 1996 and again in 2000,
to prohibit another popular practice for killing wolves known
as land-and-shoot hunting. Pilots could spot wolves from the
air, then land and quickly shoot them.
the state always has had authority to kill wolves from the
air, provided it was to help moose and caribou stocks grow.
The current controversy erupted when state game managers enacted
new aerial wolf-kill programs that leave the shooting to private
state calls it predator control, with limits and controls.
Opponents view it as sport hunting in disguise.
an editorial March 14, The New York Times weighed in, saying,
"It is now legal for private citizens to shoot wolves
from airplanes and helicopters."
not true, Robus said. While helicopters are available for
the department to use in the new programs, they're not allowed.
The editorial suggests that any private citizen can participate,
but Fish and Game has limited participation. In McGrath, three
pilots received permits. For the Nelchina program, about 35
late March, Defenders of Wildlife ran half-page ads in Anchorage
and other Alaska cities blasting the Board of Game for decisions
made earlier in the month. One new regulation allows bears
to be killed as part of predator control. Another permits
hunting of moose calves in areas where state biologists feel
moose stocks are too high.
the real story?" the ads ask. "First they say we
need to kill wolves and bears because there aren't enough
moose. ... Now they say there are too many moose and we need
to kill moose calves."
the ads ran in Alaska, Robus said, "we felt that we couldn't
allow things that were absolutely not true to be put out in
front of the public."
a letter to Defenders president Rodger Schlickeisen, Robus
called several statements in the ads and on the group's Web
site "simply untrue." Defenders had suggested that
helicopters were being used to kill wolves and that the wolf
kill was statewide.
Deatherage stood by the ad campaign.
feel absolutely comfortable and confident in our ads,"
true that helicopters are not currently being used, she said,
but the law allows their use. And while wolves are only targeted
for control in certain areas, the number of areas approved
for predator control more than doubled during the Game Board's
she said, it's true that sow bears and cubs are not being
targeted for predator control, but the Game Board made it
a lot of hairsplitting in that letter," Deatherage said.
"The department and Board of Game have put out desperate
pieces of spin for the last six months, and they have misinformed
the public by just providing snippets of information. When
you look at the big picture of predator control in Alaska,
it's getting uglier by the minute."
group isn't letting up. A full-page ad that ran Tuesday in
The New York Times reads in part, "Trophy hunters are
using airplanes to slaughter helpless wolves in Alaska. They
can gun the wolves down from the air, or chase them to exhaustion
in the deep snow -- then land and shoot them point-blank."
ad urges people to complain to Gov. Frank Murkowski and to
make a tax-deductible contribution to Defenders. "Your
donation will help us run ads like this across the nation
and mobilize other wildlife supporters," it says.
not totally a surprise," Robus said, but the ad is wrong.
The state program is not trophy hunting but short-term management
with specific goals.
understand perfectly that we're involved in something that
a lot of people dislike intensely," he said. "I
don't care if people don't like it. What I do care about is
what people use to sway the undecided public. We should try
to stick to the facts."
whole predator-control program could come under review by
a jury if a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut-based animal-rights
group Friends of Animals and seven Alaskans goes to trial.
December, a Superior Court judge refused to block the McGrath
wolf-control program. In late March the group filed an amended
complaint, saying the state has not justified its predator-control
efforts with biological data "but instead rests upon
trial date has been set.
News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at