ANCHORAGE - A national sportsmen's group has come out in support of Gov. Sarah Palin now that the opposition has movie star Ashley Judd in its corner arguing against a state program allowing the killing of wolves.
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance does not plan to use Hollywood glitz and glamour to gets its message across. Instead, it has chosen a low-key approach: sending Palin - the former Republican vice presidential candidate - a one-page letter that says "we want to publicly endorse your wolf management policy."
The letter describes Defenders of Wildlife's campaign as "a public relations blitz" that "grossly mischaracterizes" the state's predator control program.
While the approach is low-key, the more than half-dozen groups signing the letter are some of the hunting world's heaviest hitters. They include the Boone and Crockett Club and the Dallas chapter of the Safari Club. Other signers include the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Archery Trade Association and Bowhunting Preservation Alliance.
The two sides of the predator control issue in Alaska have a fundamental difference of opinion on whether sound science is being used to manage wolf and bear numbers in several areas of the state.
"It is an emotional appeal," said U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance spokesman Greg R. Lawson of the Defenders campaign launched last week. "We felt it was very important for another side of the story to get out there."
Lawson said what is getting lost in the debate is how important predator control is in the proper management of game populations. He said in the areas where the program is being conducted in Alaska, moose and caribou numbers had seriously declined before the program was initiated.
"One of the primary reasons is the predation of those animals," he said.
Alaska launched the program in 2003 to respond to complaints by people living in the Bush that wolves and bears were eating too many moose and caribou, leaving them with fewer to hunt for food. The program, which has survived numerous court challenges by animal rights and conservation groups, allows private permitted citizens to shoot the wolves either from the air or in what is called land-and-shoot, depending upon the area.
In the past six years, more than 800 wolves have been killed and far fewer bears.
Some of the challenges have come from groups that maintain the program is not based on sound science but instead caters to the needs of big game hunters, many of them from out-of-state.
Lawson said the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance can't answer that claim, but what it does know is that the program is "a rigorously regulated, scientifically based system" operating in specific, targeted areas.
Palin is a strong supporter of the program instituted under her predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski. She called the Defenders' campaign "reprehensible" in the way it uses her and her administration to raise money.
In the campaign, Judd appears in an Internet video in which she says, "It's time to stop Sarah Palin and stop this senseless savagery."
The video provides a link for people wishing to make donations.
Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor is pleased when anyone points out the scientific underpinnings of the program.
A lot of times when people talk about the killing of wolves involving airplanes, they think it is unsportsmanlike, he said. Predator control is not a sport and that is a concept some can't grasp, "Judd being one of them," McAllister said.
"I don't know that people necessarily base their views on these issues on what celebrities say," he said.
Wade Willis, Defenders' Alaska chapter spokesman, said Palin is "anti-science," adding that her positions often rebuke the scientific community. Every leading scientific organization in the country opposes the Alaska program as it is conducted, including the state chapter of The Wildlife Society, he said.
Willis accuses the state of failing to conduct the necessary scientific research to ascertain how many moose and caribou can be reasonably sustained in the predator control areas. He said the state bases its estimates on twinning rates - moose that give birth to two calves - to evaluate the health of the population. Then, it drives the harvestable numbers to the maximum, he said.
"What you got is crisis management which is so nonscientific," he said.
Bruce Bartley, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, defended the program, pointing out that the same arguments have been made unsuccessfully before.