In January 2006, Friends of Animals (FOA) won a Superior Court case that effectively banned the state of Alaska from issuing permits to the public for aerial wolf hunting. In response, Alaska's Board of Game hastily put together new "emergency regulations" for predator control that conveniently sidestep the court's decision by allowing the Board to issue aerial gunning permits again.
IDA and FOA share the position that the aerial killing of wolves violates both state and federal law (specifically the Federal Airborne Hunting Act), and even Constitutional law itself. Given this, aerial-wolf killing is not a private matter to be handled by Alaska's officials alone. It is relevant to everyone who believes that wolves have an inherent right not to be slaughtered so that hunters will have more moose to shoot. State and federal laws to protect wolves from aerial hunting already exist, but they are not being enforced.
To explain how aerial hunting violates state and federal law, FOA has submitted to the Board of Game a critical commentary and petition on their new proposed predator control regulations. We have summarized their main points below.
1. Reason for FOA's Comment and Petition
The Federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibits shooting or attempting to shoot or harass any animal from an aircraft while airborne. As soon as the law was enacted in 1971, Alaska discontinued the practice. Yet now, the State asserts that the aerial wolf control it proposes is acceptable because it falls under an exemption to the Act, and that the federal Fish and Wildlife Service supports the State's interpretation of the exemption.
While deference is due to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Alaska cannot legally engage in activities that conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Allowing permit-holders to engage in aerial hunting runs contrary to federal law which pre-empts conflicting state law under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, U.S. Const. art VI, cl. 2.
2. The Department of Fish and Wildlife and Parks' Interpretation
To date, deference has been given to a letter from the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks that claims aerial wolf hunting for the "recovery and management of moose populations" is permitted under an exception to the Federal Airborne Hunting Act. However, the Superior Court decided in January 2006 (before the letter was written) that there was no sound basis for "recovery and management" of moose populations through issuing permits for aerial hunting of wolves. In short, whereas the letter was written on the false assumption that wolf control was being carried out legally, it had in fact already been ruled illegal.
3. The Case of United States v. Helsley
While the federal Airborne Hunting Act exempts State officials and those to whom the State grants permits, it does not allow states to manipulate predation relationships between naturally occurring species using aircraft.
In the case of the United States v. Helsley, airborne shooting conducted as predator control under Montana law was deemed an exception to the Airborne Hunting Act specifically because it involved "the protection of livestock, domestic animals or human life" (all spheres of state sovereignty). However, unlike the Montana enactments, Alaska's claim for exemption is illegitimate because their aim is not to protect land, water, crops, animals (wildlife, livestock or domestic animals) or human life, but rather to artificially boost moose populations to benefit human hunters.
Based on the precedent set by this case, the Alaska Board of Game's permit scheme is unconstitutional. Citing Helsley, environmental attorneys Harry R. Bader and Greg Finstad state that "When the federal government exercises police-like power pursuant to [the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, Property Clause or Treaty Clause], the federal action pre-empts conflicting state law under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause."
4. Sport Hunting in the Guise of Predator Control
The Alaska Board of Game is issuing aerial hunting permits to private citizens, not government officials. As there is no market in the U.S. for Alaskan wolf pelts, this cannot be considered a commercial enterprise for the hunters and therefore does not qualify for exemption from federal law. However, to foster the impression that aerial gunning is a commercial and not a sport hunting pursuit, the Board of Game has issued trapping permits that allow aerial gunning, not hunting permits.
5. Alaska's Historical Disregard for Federal Law Regarding Wolf Eradication
In 1993, when Alaska's Governor Frank H. Murkowski was a Senator, he spoke in the U.S. Congress specifically defending the aerial hunting of wolves. In relation to the Airborne Hunting Act, Sen. Murkowski entered into the Record a letter from Alaska's Fish and Game Commissioner, Carl Rosier, to Congressmember Peter DeFazio. In the letter, Rosier explained that, "in response to a proposal by trappers, the Alaska Board of Game added wolves to the list of animals that may be taken after flying the same day." On the basis of that letter, Sen. Murkowski asserted that the Airborne Hunting Act would be inconsequential.
Wolves once ranged in great numbers from Canada to Mexico, but have become scarce as a result of wildlife control schemes, human encroachment on their shrinking habitat and other factors. In the U.S., only Minnesota and Alaska now have wolf populations over 1,000.
As the plethora of news reports on this issue illustrate, Alaska's aerial killing of wolves is a subject of global controversy. The state's mistreatment of wolves says to the world community that the U.S. puts the interests of hunters ahead of wildlife conservation, public opinion and the rule of law. This compromises our country's role as a leader in environmental protection and humane management of native animal populations.