You might remember a story I wrote last August about a deceitful campaign waged by Defenders of Wildlife and Alaskans for Wildlife against Alaska’s aerial predator control program. The goal of the campaign was to get voters to pass Ballot Measure 2, which would have prohibited state agents from controlling wolf populations by shooting them from airplanes.
The antis called the program an inhumane form of hunting that violated the principles of fair chase. The state was very clear in stating that the program was not hunting, and that fair chase ethics were not a consideration. The program, by its very nature, was intended to do one thing: prevent wolves from destroying the state’s moose, caribou and sheep populations by keeping their numbers in check. Doing so from the air just happens to be the most effective way to achieve that goal considering Alaska’s rugged landscape.
The emotional campaign reached its zenith last Aug. 26 when voters rejected the antis’ claims and defeated Measure 2 by a 55-44 margin.
Undeterred, Defenders of Wildlife is taking a different approach to ending Alaska’s aerial program this summer, moving the fight from Alaska to Washington, D.C. The Protect America’s Wildlife Act of 2009, introduced in Congress on July 29 by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), seeks to amend the Airborne Hunting Act of 1971 to clarify the conditions under which states can use aircraft to aid in wildlife management.
As it currently stands, Alaska’s predator management program is in full compliance with the Airborne Hunting Act of 1971. Since the antis were unsuccessful in getting Alaskan voters to outlaw the aerial program last year, they’re turning to Congress to change the law that allows the practice in the first place.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is also backing this new bill, and it issued a press release on July 29 explaining its position on the legislation.
According to HSUS, “Alaska’s aerial hunting program was initiated to artificially boost the state’s population of game animals, such as moose and caribou, to cater to a handful of out-of-state trophy hunters. While wolves sometimes eat moose and caribou calves, studies show that wolves typically eat weaker calves who are likely to die from other causes.”
Maybe in Washington, D.C. the HSUS crew can run to the grocery store to grab some veggies and tofu when they get hungry. But in rural Alaska, where communities are not connected to road systems, where large cities are hundreds of miles away, where there is no commercial-scale agriculture, and where big grocery stores don’t exist, the people there depend on native game animals for survival. Not for “trophy” hunting. Not for “sport” hunting. But for subsistence hunting, where the difference between killing a moose and not killing a moose can quite literally be a matter of life or death.
In Alaska’s interior, predators kill more than 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die during an average year, while humans take less than 10 percent through hunting. In most of the state, predation holds prey populations at levels far below what could be supported by the habitat in the area, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and wolves and humans are often competing for the same food sources.
So don’t tell me that Alaska is killing wolves from airplanes “to cater to a handful of out-of-state trophy hunters,” or that the practice is “unsporting,” as HSUS maintains. Aerial wolf control is not hunting, no matter how much the antis try to label it as such. Alaska is simply trying to keep its wolf problem in check so that rural families can continue to put food on the table. There’s nothing artificial about that.
To put HSUS’ wildly false claims into perspective, a single wolf can kill approximately 12 moose or 24 caribou—or some combination thereof—in a given year. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ungulate survival calculations. In a May 19, 2008 article in the Anchorage Daily News, it was reported that state wildlife officials saved more than 1,400 moose or nearly 3,000 caribou—or, again, some combination thereof—by killing 124 wolves from airplanes in a winter program that year. That’s 1,400 moose or 3,000 caribou that would have been eaten by those 124 wolves if not for the aerial program.
When you consider that Alaska’s wolf population numbers between 7,700 and 11,200 animals, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that wolves aren’t just “sometimes” killing moose and caribou. They’re killing moose and caribou every day, and not just the “weaker calves who are likely to die from other causes” as HSUS claims. Moreover, wolves have never been endangered or threatened in Alaska and inhabit all of their traditional range, yet aerial control takes place on only 9 percent of Alaska’s land mass.
It’s ironic that the bill the antis are pushing is called the “Protect America’s Wildlife Act,” for this bill will do the exact opposite. More wolves will mean increased predation and fewer numbers of other animals. In the antis’ view, it’s OK if a wolf kills to survive, but a human doing the same is intolerable.
Thus, the antis’ shortsighted, misleading fight to keep state agents from killing wolves from airplanes will hurt all wildlife in Alaska in the long run, not to mention impact the futures of the people who count on those animals to survive. That’s not irony. That’s a tragedy.