Alaska's promising new governor, via the Department of Fish and Game, is now offering airborne wolf hunters $150 for the left front leg of shotgunned wolves, but nothing for the wounded wolves that got away.
This "management" is supposed to be from any of five areas of "intensive management" stretching across about 60,000 square miles of wild Alaska, but our guess is that it's pretty hard to tell where a leg came from just by looking at it. We know from court convictions that these airborne shooters wander far outside their prescribed areas. It was pure luck that two of them got caught a couple of years ago.
Wolf bounties were stopped in Alaska in 1972 because they were open to abuse, impossible to monitor, and seldom had the intended effect. Time has not changed that equation.
Alaskans have twice voted to stop the obviously unscientific airborne wolf killing programs. I beseech the governor to remember her commitment to listen to Alaska's voters.
If the state's wolf kill has not reached benchmark goals by April Fools' Day the governor has threatened to bring out the helicopters and spend up to half a million bucks on a massive wolf killing program. This appears to be an accommodation to the Alaska Outdoor Council, an organization representing an extreme element of the trophy hunting community. Note that many responsible hunters do not support these massive wolf killing programs, realizing that wolves are an important part of long-term healthy moose populations.
About that $300,000 helicopter program price tag: How many longevity bonuses would that float? How many children would get needed medical care thru Denali KidCare? And how many Alaska students would get a better education?
Gov. Palin, you have given us Alaskans hope for a more enlightened future, but we must hold you accountable if you allow our wildlife management to continue languishing in the dark ages. We simply ask that you seriously consider the unanimous resolution by the 500 members of the American Society of Mammalogists calling on Alaska to develop a scientifically creditable predator management program.
We ask you to look to the horizon and see a time when Alaska's wildlife is worth more alive than dead. The wildlife viewing economy is on a path of ascension with no end in sight. This is a long-term renewable resource that could be professionally developed with minimal new infrastructure in promising bush locations. The more immediate problem is the protein needs of rural Alaskans. We believe part of the answer here is less competition from wealthy, well-equipped outside and urban trophy hunters for limited resources. These motorized hunters take out the prime breeding bulls, which is a far different take than the meat needs of rural Alaskans.
Without the airborne killing, or the new bounty, hunters and trappers still kill about 1,500 wolves a year out of a population as low as 7,000. Even if we accept a high estimate of 10,000 wolves, we still have 67 Alaska residents for every wolf. Yet we still have an ever-expanding program to decimate that species in order to artificially inflate another species. This may provide easy short-term trophy hunting, but it is far from being in the best long-term interest of all Alaskans. Healthy intact ecosystems are in our long-term interest.
Gov. Palin, we have faith that you will keep your promise of open leadership and take another look at the complex issues staring back at you through the eyes of our wildlife.
John Toppenberg is Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, which is based in Anchorage.