Since the state reinstituted aerial wolf shooting nearly four years ago, almost 700 wolves have been killed by airplane.
Now, a California congressman along with a new generation of protesters is gearing up in an effort to stop the state's program.
The state calls it predator control, but opponents call it aerial wolf hunting. The state said it's working to increase moose and caribou populations, opponents said it's inhumane.
Now the debate in Alaska is spilling over to the World Wide Web, the battle over Alaska's aerial wolf control program has gone world wide.
Six days ago, the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife posted this 10 minute video on the popular hosting site Youtube.com.
The video uses what the group calls archival footage to demonstrate an aerial wolf hunt. So far, more than 7,400 people have logged on.
Yesterday, California Democrat George Miller introduced a bill in the House, designed to amend a 50 year-old Department of Fish and Wildlife Act and effectively force Alaska's aerial program to the ground.
The bill, which Miller calls the Protect America's Wildlife Act, would only allow states to conduct predator control from planes to prevent a biological emergency, using the best available science to show a species like moose were in an irreversible decline.
The bill also stipulates that the shooting would be conducted only by a state or federal wildlife employee, not a deputized hunter as Alaska currently allows. The program would also be limited to a specific geographical area.
Miller said the bill was written with the help of Defenders of Wildlife, the same organization that produced the YouTube video.
Miller said wolf control is illegal aerial hunting in predator control clothing.
"What they've really created is a loophole to allow people to go out and harvest these wolves in this fashion, absent a necessity to do so. I've hunted my whole life but I never thought I had to run an animal down in an airplane," Miller said.
California Democrat George Miller said wolf control is illegal aerial hunting in predator control clothing. (KTUU-TV)
Alaska's Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said the bill could do more harm than good.
It seems that Congressman Miller is using some emotional rhetoric in this regard, but to call it illegal is a bit irresponsible," Lloyd said. "These are standards that are very difficult to achieve with any degree of scientific certainty, let alone, why would you rest a governmental program, basically make wait until an emergency exists. It doesn't seem a prudent way to manage for abundance and what we're trying to achieve for our moose and caribou populations."
John Toppenberg with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance said the timing of the Youtube video, and Miller's bill is no coincidence.
"This bill does not say that the state can't use it, it just says it's got to have accepted science," Toppenberg said. "This is probably the opening salvo in our effort to see that this initiative, that will be on the ballot next August, is off to a flying start and Alaskans for the third time will once again be allowed to express their will on this issue."
Alaskans have voted twice before to outlaw aerial predator control only to have lawmakers re-instate it.
So a new campaign begins with a 10 minute video. If you look closely, you can see that the video mixes its archival footage of an airplane with a scene which appears to be shot from a helicopter. Instead of being killed, it appears the wolf may be darted.
The impression on the viewer is the same; the outcome for the wolf may be completely different.
It is still an emotional impact, on an issue that has been driven by emotion from the very beginning.
Gov. Sarah Palin today issued a statement calling Congressman Miller's act a federal incursion into the traditional state management of fish and wildlife.
There seems to be no indication that the governor or Department of Fish and Game is bending to any of this national pressure. In fact, it goes beyond YouTube and Rep. Miller's bill. Yesterday, noted biologist Dr. Vic Van Ballenberghe wrote the governor a letter asking her to re-examine the state's wildlife management program and not just manage to boost game species.
The letter was signed by more than 200 biologists and scientists throughout the country. Lloyd said he had read the letter and found it had a lot of merits the department will be studying. But, he quickly added that he believes the state's predator control program is already scientifically sound.
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