It's time for Gov. Sarah Palin to make a policy decision about Alaska's wolf control programs.
Is her administration fully committed to the projects and willing to see them through, or will it keep a comfortable arm's length as Frank Murkowski's administration did?
In a letter to the governor and Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd late last month, Alaska Board of Game Chairman Cliff Judkins asks the administration to allow state biologists to use helicopters and pick up where terrible weather conditions have forced private efforts to fall short this season.
A lot of people have been asking the state about using helicopters in just such a situation for years and it's something that could have been decided long before now.
Breakup is approaching by the hour and the governor's office reports she is waiting for a briefing from the commissioner on the status of control programs, field conditions and whether it will be even be practical to send staff out in helicopters.
But the governor doesn't need that information to make the decision required of her office; that being whether this state will give the Department of Fish and Game the tools it needs to follow through on intensive game management plans the state tells the people it has in place.
We have repeated for years that the state's mangers need the tools in their toolbox to do the job we ask of them. The governor can give them those tools in the form of financing and helicopter time. Then it should be the department's responsibility to decide whether helicopters should be used in any given season. Gov. Frank Murkowski was not willing to take this extra step to meet wildlife management goals. He said helicopter use was too expensive and too unpopular. So, he focused on allowing private pilot-gunner teams to head out after wolves. It was an improvement over previous years and has led to some improved population management, but it was an incomplete approach. If the private efforts fell short, well, so be it. They had their chance. Most years the combined efforts of trappers and the permitted pilot-gunner teams made their minimum goals. Murkowski's administration was lucky.
This has been a bad weather year. The wolf-kill goal has been met in Game Management Unit 13 and the goal for GMU 16 is about to be met, according to state officials. But there are three other areas, in GMUs 12, 19 and 20 where conditions have been horrible and harvests are low.
So now it's crunch time and a decision is being forced in short order. The governor could wait for the commissioner's report and, if he says conditions are so bad even helicopters wouldn't help, she could dodge this political bullet as the question would become moot. We hope she won't wait. These are not discussions to put off into a political arena until March or April of each unfavorable season. The department should know it has the tools and support to do the job it has promised the people it will do. Then it can plan ahead if a season is shaping up as a tough one. Conditions can change quickly in Alaska and the people closest to operations in the field need the flexibility, and authority, to respond.
Gov. Palin should make the decision to give the department the those tools now and let responsibility for the final actions lie where they belong - between the commissioner and the people in the field who have been asked to carry out these plans.