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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Sarah Palin's Reign of Terror on Alaska's Wildlife

Marybeth Holleman / Friends of Animals / July 6, 2009

I don't know where to start. Since she became Alaska's governor in 2006, Sarah Palin has committed so many crimes against Alaska's wildlife, it's hard to keep up-even for someone who's lived in Alaska year-round, day in and day out, for nearly 25 years. I never imagined Alaska's wildlife could suffer so much at the hands of an elected official. For Alaska's wild animals, Palin's is a reign of terror.

Stunningly, Palin pulls this off with a cheery down-home drawl about how much "we Alaskans love our animals." This was her claim to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, just before she assured him offshore oil drilling wouldn't harm polar bears or gray whales. Trust us, she said, we Alaskans know how to take care of our animals.

I hope he doesn't believe her. It's quite the opposite: Palin's wildlife management rivals our nation's frontier-day prosecution of predators.

Since her run for governor on a platform of trustworthy and transparent government, Palin has subverted public will, distorted science, catered to special interests and outright lied to advance her own political career. Nowhere is her lust for power at any price more obvious than with wildlife. Evidently, she's never met a predator or an endangered species that she hasn't wanted to nail to her wall.

Palin, and her appointments to Alaska's Board of Game and Department of Fish and Game, quickly adopted regulations authorizing private hunters to kill 60 to 80 percent of the wolves on over 60,000 acres of state and federal lands. Though they claim this massive slaughter aimed to boost moose and caribou populations for Alaskan subsistence hunters, most of these areas are used primarily by urban sport hunters, and remain open to non-resident and commercially-guided sport hunting.

Palin's appointees have resurrected methods considered beyond unethical in all but the most extreme circles: wolves are gunned down from the air by private citizens, slaughtered from state-chartered helicopters, decimated on the edges of Alaska's most visited national parks and in nearly all areas adjacent to Alaska's urban populations. Palin even tried, unsuccessfully, to institute a $150 bounty on wolves. She did manage to use state funds to shoot down a ballot initiative which would have limited aerial predator control.

But killing 2,000 wolves every year isn't enough, evidently, to artificially increase moose populations. Palin's Board of Game shocked and awed with their latest provisions to turn wolf dens into gas chambers: after obliterating adult packs from planes and helicopters, biologists will now gas the orphaned wolf pups in the very den in which they were born.

Not content to rid Alaska of wolves, Palin and her posse have set their sights on bears. In one area (conveniently adjacent to Palin's neck of the woods, Wasilla), the state aims to kill 60 percent of the black bears-including sows with cubs. In the McGrath area, they're targeting both black and brown bears. They've expanded the methods of torture as well, allowing hunters to use both tree and ground snares to trap bears by the paw. Hunters then stop by at their leisure to shoot the suffering bears. But that's not all: they will now allow children as young as 10 years old to officially participate in predator control, assuring another generation who believes they're being good citizens by killing bears lured in by buckets of slop.

While her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, reinstituted aerial wolf kill programs, Palin's war against wildlife is more extreme than at any time in Alaska's history-even since before statehood, when there were bounties on eagles and seals and wolves. How did so much happen, and so quickly?

Most proposals (based not on peer-reviewed science but on wafer-thin anecdotal evidence) originate with area biologists hungry to be the top wolf-killer for their region, and much of the frenzy is stirred up by the urban hunting advocacy group the Alaska Outdoor Council. Essentially, a small band of wildlife biologists/hunters have been lying in wait for an opportunity like Palin.

Some years back, I witnessed that small band of men. After a wolf-control debate, a group of men, all in black leather jackets, chuckled over a nascent bear-relocation program near McGrath; they were plotting a much more devious plan against those bears. These men-Ron Summerville, Mike Fleagle, Ralph Seekins, "Machine Gun" Kellyhouse-had been trying to ramrod predator control down Alaskans' throats for decades. In Sarah Palin they found the perfect Trojan horse to carry out their master plans.

But the bloody pool of blame lies solely at Palin's feet. It is Palin who created a new position, "assistant commissioner for abundance management" (talk about subterfuge!), and hired Corey Rossi, known in some circles as "gopher choker" for his aggressive "pest management."

It is Palin who has appointed new members to the Board of Game who are-though I couldn't have thought it possible-even more extreme. Her latest appointee advocates killing wolves from the air in Denali State Park, increasing predator control regions by a third, and letting citizens use planes to spot, then land and shoot brown bears.

It is Palin who pillages state funds to sue the federal government over not one, but two, endangered species listings: polar bears and Cook Inlet beluga whales. She reprogrammed a $2 million appropriation by the Alaska legislature that was intended for an endangered species conference, using it instead to fund the state's lawsuit against the federal listing of polar bears. This, after she lied about her own state biologists' findings that the polar bear listing was, indeed, justified.

And it's Palin who attempted to appoint Wayne Anthony Ross as her new attorney general. Ross, who displays his initials-WAR-on the license plate of his red Hummer, has been the voice of the Alaska Outdoor Council for decades. The state legislature rejected Palin's appointment of Ross. It's the first time in state history a head of a state agency has failed to be confirmed by the legislature.

But Palin, in her singular focus on her own political future, knows how to silence Alaskans: recall the $1,200 blood money-I mean, "energy rebate"-she paid every Alaskan adult and child in 2007. (Never mind that she refused federal stimulus funds for education.)

Alaska 's wildlife-more than ever before-needs the rest of the country, and the world. After years of Palin's reign, Alaskans who truly do care about "our animals" are discouraged, weary and spread thin. New threats to Alaska's wildlife arise daily, even as pressures for resource exploitation escalate.

We need federal intervention to stop Palin's wildlife genocide. Passage of the "Protect America's Wildlife" amendment to the Airborne Hunting Act would help curtail aerial hunting. Secretary of Interior Salazar could place restrictions on the millions given Alaska every year for "wildlife restoration," under the Pitman-Robertson Act, so these federal funds could no longer be used to support a state agency hell-bent on wolf- and bear- killing programs. Restricting these funds, which amounted to $14.2 million in 2009, would help dry up Palin's war chest.

Wolves and polar bears, whales and caribou don't know or care about political boundaries. Denali State Park or Denali National Park, Alaska or Canada, it's all the same to them. These wild animals being tortured and massacred belong not to Palin, not to Alaskans, but only to themselves-and they need all of us to act now. Sarah Palin's war on wildlife must come to an end.

Marybeth Holleman is author of The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost and co-editor of Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment. Her essays, poetry, and articles have appeared in dozens of periodicals and anthologies, including Orion, Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Solo and The Future of Nature. See www.marybethholleman.com.


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