Is Sarah Palin a wolf or wildlife management expert? I think not. Hunter? Yes.
First - a bit of history:
Alaska 1920s - 1930s
Alaska's history of attempting predator control dates back to somewhere in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, wildlife biologists were insisting that wolves were important to the area's natural ecology. Furthermore, the wildlife biologists insisted that wolves were not responsible for a significant number of deaths of moose, caribou, or sheep. Thanks to misgivings of the general public and the long history of folklore concerning the wolf and society's need to villainize or place blame upon an entity for circumstances that are beyond its control, the educated and well-intentioned scientists lost their fight to educate the public and protect wildlife populations. This is largely due in part to ranchers, hunters and government officials, who, of course, supported the inevitable extermination of tens of thousands of wolves. Aerial hunting dates clear back to the 1940s. From that point on, aerial hunting went through to the 1960s after Alaska had earned statehood.
Alaska in 2003
In 2003, former Alaskan Governor Frank Murkowski reopened the aerial hunting program. He made it available to citizens with special permits. Murkowski also expanded predator-control programs to cover 60,000 square miles of state and federal land. This is the largest known wolf slaughtering plan to be instituted ever since Alaska first became a state. It was Frank Murkowski's intention to reduce wolf populations in some areas by at least 60 to 80 percent. Since reinstituting the aerial hunting program and providing citizens with special permits to do so, gunners have killed at least 795 wolves. That is a sugar-coated number. Conservationists state that the true number of wolves who have lost their lives to trapping, aerial hunting, and being chased down by gunners on snow machines is more along the lines of 2,000. Each and every year! That includes those who were killed by "legal" means and illegal means.
The Experts Speak
In 2007, 172 scientists signed a letter directed to Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. That letter expressed concern over Palin's lack of scientific knowledge behind Alaska's wolf-killing operation. According to the scientists, state officials set population objectives for moose and caribou based on "unattainable, unsustainable historically high populations." As a result, the "inadequately designed predator control programs" threatened the long-term health of both the ungulate and wolf populations. The letter from the scientists begged Sarah Palin to reconsider her stance on the conservation of wolves and bears "on an equal basis with the goal of producing more ungulates for hunters." (Definition of ungulate: Having hooves. Resembling hooves; hooflike.")
Hunter Sarah Palin did not care. She introduced state legislation in early 2008 that would divide the predator-control program from science. Sarah Palin's legislation transfers authority of the predator-control program from the state Department of Fish and Game to Alaska's Board of Game. Funny thing: The members who make up the Alaska's Board of Game are those individuals who are appointed by yes, you guessed it: Sarah Palin. This action was so bold that it has caused some hunters to react.
Sarah Palin's Alaska Board of Game will have "more leeway without any scientific input to do whatever the hell they basically wanted," Mark Richards, co-chair of Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Thankfully, the legislation is currently stalled.
"Across the board, Sarah Palin puts on a masquerade, claiming she is using sound management and science," says Nick Jans, an Alaskan writer. "In reality she uses ideology and ignores science when it is in her way."
From Gordon Haber, a wildlife scientist: "On wildlife-related issues, whether it is polar bears or predator controls, she has shown no inclination to be objective," he says of Palin. "I cannot find credible scientific data to support their arguments," he adds about the state's rationale for gunning down wolves. "In most cases, there is evidence to the contrary." What does Gordon Haber know? Well, he has studied wolves in Alaska for 43 years. Haber further advises that Alaska's reported numbers are wildly inflated. Four decades of wolf research conducted by Gordon Haber have revealed to him that wolves are mostly scavengers. "Sixty to 70 percent of the moose they eat are scavenged, not killed," Haber says. Haber additionally states that the wolf population estimates released by Alaska are based on secondhand observations and extrapolations - - which are also high.
In summary: Wolves are responsible for less "kills" of caribou and moose in Alaska, and the wolf population in Alaska - as reported by Alaska - is exaggerated. While we are here, I also want to suggest to some of our wolf-hater visitors that after 4+ decades of wolf research, Haber would certainly know the true character and habits of wolves and in particular, those in Alaska. (That is not to suggest that wolves living elsewhere have different behaviors.) How could Haber have become an advocate of wolves if their behavior and habits were so heinous? No way would he be. Not to mention that he is afterall a wildlife scientist.
Alaska's Stance on "Predators"
Alaska maintains that predators kill over 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die each year. Alaska also maintains that hunters and trappers kill less than 10 percent of all moose and caribou.
The true experts of wildlife science and biology maintain that Sarah Palin does not base any of her actions concerning predator control on real knowledge or science. The Palin administration is systematically killing wolves without a true knowledge or understanding of the relationship between the carnivore and hoofed animals.
Governor Palin, disappointed with the efforts of aerial hunting in 2007, offered the $150 bounty for wolf paws. State officials' aspired to the killing of 382 to 664 wolves during the 2007 predator-control season. However, 115 wolves were killed, and Sarah Palin felt that the gunners had come up short.
It was Sarah Palin's hope that the $150.00 cash bounties on wolf paws would make the predator-control season more successful, if you will. However, Gordon Haber (the wildlife scientist and observer of wolves for 43 years) had this to offer: "I can tell you from my own research that the reason they didn't get many wolves in certain years, particularly last winter, is because they have scraped those areas clean." Certainly, if anyone would know, he would.
Thankfully, in 2007, Democratic Representative, George Miller of California, introduced some logic into the mix. Rep. George Miller introduced legislation designed to curtail predator-control programs. It was to be used only as a last resort. "It's time to ground Alaska's illegal and inhumane air assault on wolves," Miller said. To that, Sarah Palin wrote a letter in response. She defended Alaska's program by stating that Alaska has "managed its wildlife so that we still maintain abundant populations of all of our indigenous predators almost fifty years after statehood."
"This is a reflection of somebody who doesn't have any use for science." Says Nick Jans, co-sponsor of the losing initiative to outlaw aerial wolf hunting, and Alaskan writer.
What can we gather from all of this? That there is some hard evidence on the table to suggest that wolves are not to blame for diminishing wildlife, if any. I myself have observed wolf hunt demonstrations and very quickly learned that no wolf, not even an entire wolf pack can effectively take down any healthy large animal and definitely not entire herds or populations of "big game", as the hunters like to call them. In fact, no wolf or wolf pack can even come close to any of the herd's young. I have witnessed this myself on numerous occasions. Though wolves are tireless - unless they are being chased on snowmobiles or helicopters - I have never seen any "big game" or young taken down in the demonstrations that I've witnessed.
What else can we gather from this small bit of Alaska's history and actual experts who have reported in on the subject? That there is much to do in this battle to protect, preserve, and Save The Wolves Now!
Valerie / 9-17-08