Wildlife group defends its ads critical of aerial wolf killing

Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2004

Complaints by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about recent Defenders of Widlife newspaper advertisements simply don't hold water. Defenders is confident that all information presented in our advertisements about aerial wolf killing is factually correct.

Defenders of Wildlife is a highly credible, science-based national wildlife conservation organization with an office in Anchorage. We pride ourselves on working closely with federal and state agencies on important wildlife issues. When appropriate, we also mobilize the public to respond to the mismanagement of a public trust asset - Alaska's wildlife.

It's important to refute the Department of Fish and Game's charges specifically - with real facts - but it's just as important to note the one fact they didn't challenge. Alaskans have voted, twice, to put a stop to aerial-assisted wolf gunning - something that the Legislature, the governor and the Alaska Board of Game have all now ignored.

In its letter to Defenders, the state said that helicopters were not authorized for aerial wolf control. But at their November, 2003 meeting, the Alaska Board of Game amended regulation 5AAC 92.039, removing "fix-winged" from the definition of aircraft specifically to allow for the use of helicopters in aerial gunning programs.

They also say that we imply aerial wolf killing is occurring statewide. As a matter of fact, on our website www.savealaskawolves.org we have posted a map that depicts the Game Management Units where aerial/land-and-shoot wolf killing is occurring, where it is proposed and where it is eligible to occur under the state's Intensive Game Management Law.

And contrary to the state's assertion, we never said that hunters in Alaska are allowed to harvest female bears accompanied by cubs. We stuck to the facts: The Board of Game approved the killing of bear sows and cubs when they adopted their Bear Conservation and Management Policy by changing the definition of a "legal" bear. The policy also lists the trapping of bears, the use of aircraft to kill bears, the baiting of bears and the selling of bear parts as additional tools the board can use to reduce bear populations to increase moose and caribou for hunters.

Finally, the state denies that moose calf hunting is occurring in areas where predator control has been implemented. Well, they are wrong. The area where moose calf hunting is happening is the very same area where wolf control programs have been in place for at least five years, which may explain why moose are now overpopulated there and damaging habitat. Ask any biologist; shooting calves to knock back overpopulated prey is the logical result of an unscientific program to wipe out predators. In addition, the Board of Game carried proposal #76, 5 AAC 92.265 at their recent meeting to eliminate the statewide prohibition on taking moose calves.

Defenders of Wildlife is heavily invested in scientifically sound wildlife and habitat conservation. We along with the majority of Alaskans do not, however, support the use of aerial gunning to radically alter the wildlife balance of entire areas. The current predator control programs approved for Game Management Units 19D-East, 13A, B & E, 19A and 16B are based on inadequate data and go against the wishes of the Alaskan public. Predator control is now approved on more than 30,000 square miles of Alaska, and will result in the deaths of thousands of wolves over the next four to five years.

Current wolf control plans also largely ignore important findings from a comprehensive National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the state of Alaska. Many top scientists from around the nation, including in Alaska, made specific biological recommendations with respect to implementing predator control in the state. The Board of Game has ignored this study. Instead of science, the Board's current programs are based mostly on the long-discredited notion that wiping out all the predators paves the way to easy hunting for humans, with moose as plentiful as feedlot cattle.

• Karen Deatherage is Alaska program associate for Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage.

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