Governor Sarah Palin's meteoric rise to the national political stage has put the spotlight on all things Alaska, including the terrible spectacle that the state's predator control programs have become.
On her watch, predator control has escalated beyond wildlife management. Her Board of Game has sanctioned the killing of wolf pups in their dens, the unlimited harvest of female bears and cubs, the liberalization of bear baiting regulations, the selling of bear skulls and hides for profit, and same-day airborne hunting of bears. The board authorized "predator control" calling for the eradication of all wolves in one area, which led to the shooting of 14 pups.
Today's "predator control" programs have only one management goal: maximizing moose and caribou by artificially increasing these populations to the edge of what the environment can support. This is a dangerous management objective that is not supported by scientific research.
Alaska's programs show little restraint or concern for the science of balancing predator and prey populations. If they did, they would have to address the multiple stressors on prey populations, ranging from the demands of the commercial guiding industry to global warming and habitat destruction.
But because the Board of Game's focus is solely on promoting game populations for hunting, (due no doubt to the fact that all members are representatives of hunting and trapping interests), the preferred tool it uses to grow moose and caribou populations is to encourage killing more wolves and bears.
Governor Palin has offered little in the way of science-based guidance for these programs, such as the National Research Council offered in a recent review. Instead, she offered private citizens a ghastly $150 incentive for the left foreleg of each wolf killed in designated areas.
In the same year, she also introduced a bill seeking to remove the few remaining scientific requirements for approving predator killing. Fortunately, that legislation, endorsed by the pro-predator-killing Alaska Outdoor Council, was stalled last session -- though the governor has vowed to reintroduce it again next year.
And rather than invest in current scientific population estimates for wolves and other predators, Gov. Palin and the Legislature threw $400,000 at a public relations campaign to dissuade Alaskans from voting to ban the aerial gunning of wolves by private hunters. Instead of scientific data, the Department of Fish and Game largely relies on flimsy estimates from the same private citizens who are permitted to kill the wolves.
Governor Palin and the Board of Game have resorted to such desperate measures to reach unrealistic population goals for moose and caribou based on historical and anecdotal estimates for peak population numbers -- occurring more than half a century ago, when predators were widely persecuted.
Governor Palin has two years left in her term. During this time, she will have the opportunity to take a hard look at how Alaska manages its wildlife. One quick way she could make a big change is to diversify the Board of Game with members who represent all Alaskans, as state law mandates. The governor should ensure fair and equal representation for the many interests of our diverse state.
Wade Willis is Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife and owns an ecotourism business.