Bill Sherwonit / AK Voices / Anchorage Daily News / August 4, 2009
A couple of days ago, a friend forwarded me a commentary by Tim Lindell, who writes opinion pieces on the Conservatives 4 Palin blogsite. Among his many grievances, Lindell was unhappy that the Alaska media has largely ignored the recently introduced PAW (Protect America's Wildlife) Act, which he argues "will make hunting in Alaska extinct." Like Lindell, I've been surprised that the PAW Act hasn't received more local media coverage, because it is aimed at a controversial predator-control program begun under Gov. Frank Murkowski and dramatically escalated by our recently resigned ex-governor Sarah Palin. I can't recall seeing even a small mention of this newly introduced legislation in Anchorage's "good-morning paper." But the Daily News publishes less and less of what's newsworthy and of interest to Alaskans, at least in its print edition. Unlike Lindell, however, I believe the PAW Act is a good thing. And long overdue.
For those who need reminding, for several years the state of Alaska has recruited private citizens to gun down wolves from the air across some 60,000 square miles of state-owned land. In just the last four years, more than 700 wolves have been killed this way, despite widespread public opposition to such airborne killing, and the fact that some of the targeted wolf packs spend much of their lives on federal lands. To make matters worse, the Alaska Board of Game has now also approved the same-day airborne land-and-shoot killing of black bears and grizzlies in some parts of the state.
All of this is being done to provide more moose and caribou for human hunters, while building ungulate populations that are artificially high and unsustainable.
In short, the aerial-gunning program has been implemented as part of Alaska's current wild-game farming approach to wildlife management, a favored-species sort of approach that is purely political. Yes, state wildlife managers claim that Alaska's predator control program is science based, but much of the predator killing occurs despite a lack of sufficient research and monitoring of both predator and prey populations. And it ain't just us wolf and bear lovers who say the system is a bad one. In 2005 and again in 2007, the American Society of Mammalogists - the world's oldest and largest professional group devoted to the study of mammals - expressed its concerns (first to Murkowski, then to Palin). ASM's leaders pointed out that Alaska's predator control program, as practiced under the last two governors, does not meet the contemporary scientific standards required for sound management of both predator and prey species. In 2007, nearly 200 scientists signed a letter to Gov. Palin opposing the program. Of course she ignored it.
It will also be recalled that the state's ever-expanding predator-kill program is highly controversial among Alaskans. Twice in recent years, Alaskans approved citizen initiatives that limited the use of aircraft to kill wolves; both times the Alaska Legislature eventually overrode those efforts. In 2008, opponents to the aerial-killing program tried again; this time they failed, thanks largely to a major state propaganda campaign, the (then) overwhelming popularity of predator-kill advocate Gov. Palin, and, some have argued, confusing language on the ballot initiative. Even with that defeat, it's clear that many Alaskans remain opposed to widespread predator control, especially when conducted by members of the public.
For years, aerial-gunning opponents have argued that Alaska's use of private citizens to shoot wolves from the air violates the spirit and intent of the 1971 Airborne Hunting Act, which outlawed airborne hunting throughout the U.S. Some argue it violates the law, period. Now, members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced legislation - namely the PAW Act - that will close a loophole that's allowed Alaska to implement its airborne effort to rid the state of thousands of wolves (and now many bears) so that people -many if not most of them urban sport hunters - will have more moose and caribou to kill.
As California Rep. George Miller (the Congressman many Alaskans love to hate) noted upon introducing the PAW Act, "It's time to ground Alaska's illegal and inhumane air assault on wolves. The state of Alaska has been operating an airborne hunting program that not only ignores federal law but violates Alaskans' and other Americans' wishes. The PAW Act will help to protect our nation's wildlife from the unethical and unfair practice of airborne hunting."
No doubt many Alaskans - probably some Alaska Voices among them - will decry the federal government's intrusion into our state's affairs. Well, there are times when "the feds" need to step in to correct a wrong. Alaska's game-farming style of wildlife management and the unnecessary slaughter of wolves and bears is way behind the times and needs to end. If we Alaskans won't hold our wildlife managers (and politicians) accountable, I say a loud AMEN to Rep. Miller and the other House members and Senators who are finally taking action.
Despite what Lindell and some predator-control advocates argue, the PAW Act will not threaten Alaska's hunting traditions or management, But it will begin to fix a system that is scientifically suspect, politically motivated, arguably illegal, and, to many of us Alaskans, simply wrongheaded, unethical, and inhumane.