ANCHORAGE - A California lawmaker presented a bill Tuesday designed to put an end to Alaska's aerial wolf control program under which hundreds of wolves have been killed.
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Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced the House bill in the Committee on Natural Resources. He was joined by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.
Miller said the Protect America's Wildlife Act, or PAW Act, would close a loophole in federal law that Alaska has exploited to permit hunters to shoot and kill nearly 700 wolves from aircraft in the past several years.
"It's time to ground Alaska's illegal and inhumane air assault on wolves," Miller said in a news release. "The state of Alaska has been operating an airborne hunting program that not only ignores federal law but violates Alaskans' and other Americans' wishes."
Miller, former chairman of the Natural Resources committee, said Alaska's wolf control program is illegal because it violates the Airborne Hunting Act, passed by Congress in 1972 to prohibit shooting or harassing animals from aircraft.
Alaska has gotten around the law by licensing people to shoot wolves under the guise of wildlife management and predator control, the California Democrat said.
Miller said his bill would require that Alaska officials prove they are responding to "legitimate biological and other emergencies" to conduct airborne hunting.
"The PAW Act will help to protect our nation's wildlife from the unethical and unfair practice of airborne hunting," he said.
The bill does not alter existing exceptions for the use of aircraft for animal control where land, livestock, water, pets, crops or human health and safety are at risk, Miller said.
Denby Lloyd, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said he hadn't yet had a chance to read Miller's bill but said his characterization of Alaska's predator control program as illegal was "unfortunate."
"The assertion in the press release is unfortunate," he said. "Our program right now is not a hunting program. It is a predator control program."
Lloyd said the program, unlike what many people think, does not allow just anybody to hop in an airplane and begin shooting at wolves. The program is based on scientific principles to do specific things in certain areas, he said.
Alaska's Board of Game approved the aerial wolf control program to boost moose and caribou numbers in several areas of Alaska. The program was begun in the McGrath area in the Interior and has since been expanded to five areas of the state.
Proponents have said culling wolves and bears in those areas is needed so that rural residents can put food on their tables. Critics say the program lacks a proper scientific foundation.
Miller's bill would restore the wishes of Alaskans who in 1996 and 2000 voted in favor of two ballot measures that banned airborne hunting, said Puja Patel, a Miller spokeswoman.
"I think most people in Alaska are supportive of this," she said.
Not Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. He denounced Miller's bill, saying it was written by the Defenders of Wildlife in a grand fundraising scheme that would trade dollars for the food that rural Alaskans rely on for survival.
"The ads and information that the groups behind this bill are pushing are dangerously misleading and absurdly incorrect," Young said. "Those who have never had to hunt to maintain their survival are significantly crossing the boundaries when they try to dictate to those that do."
Tom Banks, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the conservation group with over 540,000 members - about 5,000 of them in Alaska - was proud to be part of the bill.
"We think this is a victory for Alaska if this passes," he said.