Groups seek changes to Alaska wolf control program

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009

ANCHORAGE - An animal rights group wants Alaska to set a new course for wolf control after waging a long, high-profile fight with former Gov. Sarah Palin on the issue.

With Palin gone and Gov. Sean Parnell now in office, Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups have renewed their push against Alaska's intensive predator control program, which allows for the aerial shooting of wolves and the killing of bears.

The aerial program began under Palin's predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, but was "dramatically escalated" by Palin and her "hand-picked Board of Game," Defenders of Wildlife said in an e-mail to Alaskans this week.

The e-mail, headlined "Ask Governor Parnell to End the War on Wolves and Bears," encourages people to tell Parnell of their opposition to the program, which the Department of Fish and Game said has resulted in 1,042 wolves killed since 2003.

Defenders of Wildlife and three other conservation groups have asked for a meeting with Parnell on the predator control program. The governor has received the request, which was pending Friday afternoon, Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

The groups hope that Parnell, who took office when Palin stepped down July 26, will put in place a science-based management of Alaska's wildlife that would maintain a balance of predators and prey and would benefit subsistence users and the state's tourism industry.

Defenders of Wildlife also asked for a meeting with cruise ship industry officials to discuss the predator control program's affect on Alaska's image among tourists.

Defenders and Palin had a contentious relationship during most of her 2 ½ years in office. Earlier this year, the group sponsored ads featuring actress Ashley Judd that criticized the predator control program.

Palin referenced the ad in her resignation speech last month, saying Alaskans need to fight outside interests on how the state manages fish and wildlife.

Palin pandered to the commercial guiding industry, the "big money players" when it came to the state's predator control program, said Wade Willis, Defenders of Wildlife's Alaska representative. They supported her politically, donating to her campaign while telling her they needed more big game for their clients - and quickly, he said.

Palin responded aggressively on the issue, Willis said.

"She sent predator control out of control," he said.

Palin packed the Board of Game with strong supporters of predator control and created new positions in the Department of Fish and Game, such as an assistant commissioner for abundance management, Willis said.

A Palin spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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