Alaskan shooters are poised to take to the skies again this year to slaughter as many wolves as possible. This is about to happen despite the fact that the Airborne Hunting Act of 1972 makes the use of aircraft to shoot or harass animals illegal and despite the fact that the citizens of Alaska have voted twice, once in 1999 and again in 2000 to ban the practice. Enough signatures have been collected this year to put the issue on the ballot again in 2008.
I refuse to call these trophy shooters hunters. Regular readers of this column know that I am not a proponent of hunting. But I grew up as a hunter and even earned a living as a guide. Most hunters that I grew up with had a sense of fair play and abided by rigid self-imposed ethics. It is what the Boone and Crockett Club calls fair chase. Fair Chase according to Boone and Crockett is "the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals." Blasting animals in deep snow from an aircraft or harassing them until they fall from exhaustion, then landing and walking up to shoot them as they lay helpless is not fair chase. Former Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Frank Rue said, "To track and spot a wolf from an aircraft, land and then kill it, is not considered to be a fair chase method. We know from past experience that the practice leads to other abuses such as chasing wolves to exhaustion, herding wolves and shooting them from the air."
Alaskan state officials, at the urging of trophy hunting lobbyists, use a loophole in the Airborne Hunting Act that allows for the management of predators from aircraft to skirt the law. This is troublesome on two levels. Allowing private individuals who either own aircraft or have the resources to charter them the privilege of buzzing the skies of Alaska blasting hapless wildlife on the ground then allowing these shooters to either keep the pelts as trophies or sell them for a profit is far from scientific management.
Another problem with this aerial pogrom is the faulty logic behind it. The idea is to rid the landscape of wolves in hopes there will be more ungulates like elk, caribou and moose for hunters to shoot. Be careful what you wish for. Ask the residents of Biltmore Forest or game mangers across the Southeast what it's like to have high populations of herbivores running rampant across the landscape with no keystone predators to provide natural population control.
As wildlife management evolves from producing targets for hunters to the holistic management of ecosystems the place of keystone predators in the environment is becoming more and more obvious.
In what biologists and ecologists call "trophic cascade", the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has allowed aspen and cottonwood groves to recover in fragile riparian areas which has allowed beavers to become more numerous creating more ponds which provide more habitat for nesting birds and other wetland creatures.
We, here in the 11th Congressional District could actually have a telling role in squelching this Alaskan tragedy. The PAW Act (HR 3663) introduced by Rep. George Miller, Dem. California, which would close the loophole in the Airborne Hunting Act has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Our congressman, Heath Shuler sits on the Committee on Natural Resources which will have to approve the bill for it to go to vote. He is also a member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, which touts hunter ethics.
I contacted Shuler's office by telephone and email to try and get a position statement regarding the PAW Act but got no response by press time. I urge you to contact Rep. Shuler and ask him to sign on as a co-sponsor of the PAW Act and lobby for its passage in the Natural Resources committee. It's the kind of law ethical sportsmen should support.
His district office address is 356 Biltmore Ave. Suite 400, Asheville, NC 28801. The phone number is 828.252.1651 and the fax is 828.252.1651. I could not find a direct email for Rep. Shuler but you can reach his press secretary, Andrew Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org.