Washington, D.C. - Today, Rep. George Miller (Calif.-D) took a critical first step toward ending the use of aircraft to hunt Alaska wolves and bears when he introduced the Protect America's Wildlife (PAW) Act.
The act will close a loophole in the Airborne Hunting Act, which Alaska legislators and officials have exploited to permit private hunters to use planes to hunt, harass and kill wolves and bears. Under Alaska's program, wolves can either be shot from the air or chased to exhaustion before landing and shooting them point blank. In some areas of the state, grizzly bears and black bears can also be killed by "land and shoot" hunting. Even mother bears with cubs are targeted.
"Alaska is flouting the will of Congress and exploiting a loophole in the Airborne Hunting Act, which was clearly intended to end aerial hunting by private citizens," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. "To make matters worse, other states are now proposing to follow Alaska's example."
Under the guise of wildlife management, Alaska contends its current aerial hunting program is not hunting at all but constitutes legitimate wildlife management that artificially boosts wild moose and caribou populations. This goal has drawn serious criticism from the scientific community.
A letter sent today to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin from nearly 200 scientists states, "We urge the State of Alaska to consider the ecological role that large predators play in preventing eruptions and crashes [of prey populations], and to consider conservation and preservation of predators on an equal basis with the goal of producing more ungulates for hunters."
For more than a decade, the citizens of Alaska have voiced opposition to much aerial wildlife hunting and have twice voted to put an end to the state's use of aircraft to kill wolves. But each time, the legislature has overturned the will of the people.
"The intent of Alaska's citizens is clear," said Joel Bennett, former member of the Alaska Board of Game. "We have voted against the practice of private hunters using aircraft to hunt wolves twice now, only to have our vote overturned both times. It is obvious we need the support of Congress to close this loophole."
For most hunters, the concept of fair chase is the cornerstone of hunting ethics. Many hunters are opposed to the use of aircraft to hunt because, among other reasons, it is not considered "fair-chase" hunting.
"Aerial hunting is not only a serious ethical issue but also a growing national issue. Congress recognized this when it passed the federal Airborne Hunting Act to stop the practice in Alaska. We are grateful to Rep. Miller, a true conservationist, for championing this legislation," added Schlickeisen.