The smell of fresh snow and the burning fuel of a Ski-Doo Olympic Snowmachine are part of my vivid childhood memories. I would hang on to my pop's snowsuit, as we rode through Alaskan muskegs, down river banks, and up power line trails. Checking our trap line was dirty work. Bait consisted of freezer burnt salmon and road kill rabbit retrieval missions. I grew up with the smell of skinned mink, beaver, muskrats, coyotes, and wolves in my garage.
We took the hides to the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage and sold them. Staying in a hotel with plumbing and television was our decadent reward. I learned more about nature from trapping and hunting than I did from any biology class. Habits, tracking, instincts; I was in awe of the Nature around me and then I helped kill it. It wasn'teasy. Mink are smart as white collar thieves. They could get bait out of a trap nine times out of ten, anddefecate before departing, a not-so-subtle message to Pop and I.
I don't write these things to brag, just as fact. You may be revolted by this lifestyle, and I won't argue. I share this to provide you the reference of my horror of aerial wolf hunting. Shooting wolves from planes is to hunting, what hiring a prostitute is to dating.
Alaska has a long history of bounties and hunting-much of it controversial. Aerial wolf hunting began in 1948. In 1972, Congress passed a law that prohibited aerial wolf hunting. Problem solved? No, under the guise of "wolf control," permits were issued to "pilot gunner" teams in 1979. In 1992, under Governor Walter Hickel's Administration, the Alaska Board of Game initiated a wolf control program with the goal of reducing numbers by 80%. Under threat of a massive tourist boycott, the "land and shoot" policy was reintroduced. During Democrat Governor Tony Knowles Administration, only non-lethal measures were used against wolves. The Wolf Management Reform Coalition collected 33,000 signatures to put an aerial wolf hunting ban on the November 1996 ballot; 59% of Alaskans voted for it, with the exception being a biological emergency. A Republican Legislature introduced SB74. This bill eliminated the need for a biological emergency to justify aerial wolf control and usurped the will of the people. Governor Knowles vetoed the bill and the Republican majority overrode it. In March of 2000, SB267 was passed which allowed hunters other than the state biologists to aerially shoot wolves. That same year, Alaskans voted on another ballot initiative to ban aerial wolf hunting by a 53% majority. In 2004, then Governor Frank Murkowski reinstated aerial wolf hunting to private hunters. He opened up 60,000 square miles of Alaska for the flying cowboys. All you needed was a plane and a permit.
With all of this history, we should have been prepared to deal with a Palin Administration hell bent on killing wolves. She and I were "raised by the same wolves", and she wants to shoot them out of planes. She stacked the Alaska Board of Game with pro-aerial wolf hunters. She was successful at merging faulty science, Safari Club International interests and state funded propaganda; spinning a web of lies to masquerade as conservation. I'm not sure where it started; maybe a spam email promising penis enlargement from shooting mammals out of planes went viral. Running our policy on "Faith Based Science" hasn't worked; animals you believe are here for you to rule, and exist because Noah got two of them on a boat and they managed not to eat each other is one thing. But if you refuse to use the brain God gave you for observation and noticing patterns of science, well, how good of a steward of the Earth are you? Years of classic, scientific studies by Adolph Murie and Vic Van Vallenbergh have been mocked or ignored. Their studies were in the field, observing the balance between wolves and ungulate populations. They proved what common sense verifies; wolves take the weak and the sick thereby strengthening the herds. The Alaska Board of Game lacks common sense and ignores science. The Board is loaded with Viagra starved, trigger-happy Alaska Outdoor Council and Safari Club International agenda driven thugs.
Because of declining hunter success throughout the 1990s, residents of McGrath were vocal about the need for aerial wolf control. They complained loudly and constantly that there weren't enough legal moose to hunt. The most comprehensive moose population survey to date was done in the fall of 2001. Alaska Department of Fish & Game Biologists documented moose numbers and the bull/cow ratios within a 520 square mile area around McGrath known as the Experimental Micro Management Area or EMMA, as well as the rest of Game Management Unit (GMU) 19D East. 520 square miles is a relatively small area. It is in fact, just under 12 miles north, south, east and west of McGrath. The target ratio for a sustainable hunted population is 30 bulls/100 cows. Within the EMMA, that ratio fell to an unhealthy 18 bulls/100 cows. Outside EMMA and basically outside the range of lazy 4-wheeler hunters, that ratio was 44 bulls/100 cows-well above the healthy target. Here's the kicker direct from the Alaska Department of Fish & Games official report:
"The low bull:cow ratio in this area (EMMA) results from an imbalance between hunting and recruitment. The bull:cow ratio in the remainder of GMU 19D East remains relatively high."
In other words, the science from ADF&G's own biologists contradicted the need for any predator control. Studies conducted for the McGrath Adaptive Management Team proved that over-hunting was the reason for the lack of moose in the area, not wolves. That data was buried and wolf control was implemented.
Right before the 2006 Election, Alaskans for Wildlife submitted 57,000 signatures to get another aerial wolf hunting ban in place. Newly elected Governor Palin and the ADF&G issued even more wolf kill permits and put up a $150 bounty. A state judge ruled Palin exceeded her authority and the bounty was scrapped. At the end of the 2007 legislative session, Palin flooded the legislature with bills to ease up on wolf hunting restrictions, but the bills were held up in committee. In the spring of 2008, Palin tried to declare wildlife an "asset" of the State to make their management off limits to ballot initiatives. She covertly tried to tack a wolf hunting bill on to an animal cruelty bill, SB 273, introduced by Senator Bill Wielechowski. Pun intended: she got shot down.
Last month Alaskans voted once again on Aerial Predator Control. The intent of the ballot initiative was simple enough; to prohibit the shooting of wolves and grizzly bears from aircraft. Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, overseer of elections, did his part to insure the proposition language was confusing enough to guarantee failure:
Ballot Measure 2
Bill Amending Same Day Airborne Shooting
This bill amends current law banning same-day airborne shooting to include grizzly bears. The bill permits the Board of Game to allow a predator program for wolves and grizzly bears if the Commissioner of Fish and Game finds an emergency, where wolves or grizzly bears in an area are causing a decline in prey. Only employees of the Department of Fish and Game could take part in the program. Only the minimum number of wolves or grizzly bears needed to stop the emergency could be removed.
Should this initiative become law?
Parnell was dragged into court several times for misrepresenting the intent of the initiative on the ballot. Many Alaskans were confused by the ballot language. My neighbor is a retired state engineer. He is a bright man and a conservationist. He voted no despite being an outspoken opponent of aerial wolf killing. Had I not known to vote yes, I would have voted no too. Now, aerial predator control proponents can disingenuously claim that Alaskans favor killing wolves and bears from planes as evidenced by the 2008 vote on Ballot Prop 2.
Governor Palin did her part to defeat the initiative as well. She approved the use of public money and ordered the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to publish a 26-page full color pamphlet called "Understanding Intensive Management and Predator Control in Alaska." It circulated through newspapers statewide and was mailed to tens of thousands of Alaskans just days before the election. The pamphlet emphasized "how well the current system is working." Jim Marcotte, Director of Support for the Board of Game, said the pamphlet was not meant to influence voters-Really? Spending public money to tell Alaskans that the Aerial Wolf Control Program is necessary to protect our moose and caribou populations just before a statewide election wasn't an attempt to influence the outcome? The fear machine was in full force. The message was clear: wolves threaten hunters' ability to put food on the table. But the truth was more about putting pelts on a wall.
In addition to the pamphlet and mailers, the state paid for Board of Game members to fly all over Alaska to "educate" the public on the benefits of predator control-again just before the election. This entire predator control program is about turning Alaska into a wild game farm. In response to the allegation that she signed off on a "propaganda campaign to justify the state's barbaric wolf slaughter from the skies," Palin said, "My understanding is this program was funded by the Legislature to factually explain game management practices to Alaskans, and I don't have a problem with that." The total bill for the "education" was $400,000. Nearly the same amount of money she vetoed for high school drop out prevention.
It's shameful she spent almost half a million dollars on pamphlets to compensate for Alaska's prohibition on Cialis. Hey, if you've been shooting wolves out of planes, and you have an erection lasting for more than four hours, check the Boone & Crocket stats, you may have a trophy!
In June of this year, the ADF&G broke their own predator control regulations with the slaughter of 14 wolf pups near Point Moeller. Under the ADF&G Wolf Control Regulations (5AAC 92.110(i)), "Denning, the killing of wolf young in the den, is prohibited." On site at the scene of the crime were Deputy ADF&G Commissioner for Wildlife, Ken Taylor, and The Director of ADF&G's Division of Wildlife Conservation, Doug Larsen. Why were suits from Juneau involved in a routine field operation? Why do we pay them salaries to enforce laws they are either unaware of, or choose to break? Perhaps they knew they were breaking their own law and were there to support the cover-up and clean up crew.
ADF&G Biologists want to "maintain" caribou herd numbers between 3,000-4,000 animals on the Alaska Peninsula near Port Moeller. According to former ADF&G Commissioner Ron Skoog, the caribou populations on the Alaska Peninsula have fluctuated many times over the last several decades. Indeed, the caribou population on the Alaska Peninsula has dropped to 500 or fewer at least 3 times over 132 years. ADF&G Biologists obtained emergency permission to kill wolves by misleading the Board of Game and Alaskans to think the current decline is unprecedented. This is clearly NOT the case.
Sarah Palin has been in a position to do the right thing for the wildlife of Alaska. Independent Alaskan Biologists have been begging for her ear. Faith based science is not science, yet it is what she has used in her policy making; mocking legitimate studies, and embracing big game hunters. The Rapture is not an environmental policy nor is it a game management policy.
It's been a long time since I set or checked a trap. I've spent hours behind a camera, camping in bear refuges, in awe of the nature of Alaska. When I was a child, I had no idea how big the world was, or how tamed parts had become. Looking at the world, I know Alaska is precious in its wildness.
Why can't we just let Nature run wild?