Gov. Sarah Palin receives a great deal of political pressure from special interest groups, e.g., Safari Club International, the National Rifle Association, the Alaska Outdoor Council, to kill bears and wolves in order to artificially inflate the number of trophy quality moose and caribou.
Furthermore, the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation heavily depends on out-of-state hunters for its funding.
In 2007, the agency collected nearly $5.5 million from nonresident hunting licenses and big game tags. Thus, the DWC has a clear incentive to create more opportunities for nonresident hunters. However, trophy hunters are not the only constituents that the state government must consider.
When state employees drag wolf pups from their dens and shoot them, or private "hunters" are allowed to stalk wolves from airplanes, citizens demand to know the reasons why. The government has responded with a $400,000 public relations campaign, which includes public speakers, DVDs, and glossy brochures, designed to justify killing wolves and bears.
For most Alaskans, creating more opportunities for an urban professional to display a moose trophy in his or her office is not an acceptable reason to kill wolf pups. Thus, the state claims that its predator control programs are ecologically responsible and that the primary reason for killing wolves and bears is to enable impoverished rural hunters to feed themselves.
However, there are numerous inconvenient facts which contradict the state government's claims. Last year, Palin received a letter signed by 172 scientists expressing concerns regarding the ecological impacts of the state's predator control programs. The letter concluded that predator control programs may have multiple adverse ecological consequences, including "habitat damage from high ungulate populations that may result in population crashes of both ungulates and predators ... ."
In regard to feeding the rural poor, one study noted that in three out of the five wolf control areas, the majority of the moose were killed by either urban hunters or nonresidents. The study suggested, "Perhaps a rural preference for subsistence during periods of low prey availability would be helpful in resolving this issue for residents more dependent upon wild game." This is not an option favored by Safari Club International and other similar interest groups.
Even using the dubious methodology employed by the state government, it is apparent that banning trophy hunting is a more effective method of feeding the rural poor than killing wolves. Last year, 124 wolves were killed by aerial hunters. The government claims that these actions "saved" the equivalent of either 1,400 moose or 3,000 caribou from wolf predation. On average, out-of-state hunters annually kill 1,102 moose, which is enough to feed 100 wolves for a year. Nonresident hunters also kill approximately 2,057 caribou every year, or enough caribou to feed 85 wolves. Thus, more moose and caribou could have been "saved" by not selling big game tags to nonresidents.
On the Aug. 26 primary election ballot, Alaskans will have the opportunity to vote on ballot measure 2, which will ban the aerial killing of wolves and bears except in the event of a biological emergency.
Alaskans have voted in favor of banning aerial hunting twice in recent years. On both of these occasions, the Legislature has caved in to special interest groups and reinstated aerial hunting.
Alaskans can do their part by voting "yes" on ballot measure 2. Maybe this time the government will listen to the voters instead of special interest groups.
* Alex Simon is a Juneau resident.