ANCHORAGE - Protesters gathered outside a Sitka bookstore Saturday to speak out against a state-sponsored program to kill wolves, and encourage people to tell their family and friends to boycott Alaska until the killing stops.
The protest, the first Alaska "howl-in" in more than 30 held so far nationwide, was in front of Old Harbor Books. Organizer Kathy Ingallinera said a table was set up out of the rain where organizers were getting a mostly friendly response from shoppers and passers-by.
By early afternoon about 40 postcards featuring a photo of a wolf had been handed out, with instructions to tell Gov. Frank Murkowski that relatives and friends will be told to stay away from Alaska until the program ends, Ingallinera said.
"Wolves are so mysterious most people will go their whole lives and never see one," she said. "It is important that Alaska not take it for granted that wolves will always be there."
Friends of Animals, an animal rights group based in Darien, Conn., that is sponsoring the protests, provided four posters for the Sitka event, including one of a wolf in the cross-hairs of a gun sight with the words, "They call it management. We call it murder."
Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said 32 protests were held in late December, and 20 more are scheduled for January to keep the pressure on Murkowski to abandon the aerial wolf-control program.
Murkowski has repeatedly said he will hold firm to the program under way in McGrath and the Nelchina Basin out of concern for residents who have long complained that wolves and bears are eating too many moose calves, leaving them with too few moose to eat.
The Board of Game approved the killing of about 40 wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area near McGrath and about 140 wolves in an 8,000-square-mile area in the Nelchina basin.
In the McGrath area program, hunters are allowed to shoot the animals from planes. The Nelchina basin pilot and hunter teams are required to land before shooting.
"We deplore the killing of wolves to suit the convenience of moose hunters and to provide a thrill for pilots. Modern society should not tolerate this," Feral said in a statement.
Friends of Animals, with about 200,000 members, was behind a similar call for a tourism boycott a decade ago to protest lethal wolf control.
Feral said that campaign launched under then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel was successful in getting a moratorium, but it has been harder getting through to Murkowski. The call to boycott Alaska's estimated $2 billion a year tourism industry is an attempt to get his attention, she said.
Rebecca Jones, 29, who moved to Sitka three years ago, said Murkowski is not listening to Alaskans who think the program is wrong, only to big-game hunters. Jones is telling her family in Wichita, Kansas, not to visit.
"I've only seen wolves in a zoo," she said. "They will soon disappear if we allow this. It is wrong to shoot them."
Ingallinera, a nurse practitioner who also is executive director of the Last Resort Animal Sanctuary, which tries to find homes for abandoned dogs, said other remedies can be found.
She suggests that the state use the money it is spending on the program for food drives for people in the McGrath and Nelchina areas. The state so far has about $1,300 invested in each moose calf that would be saved under the program.
"Anytime we put our hands in this predator-prey thing it doesn't work," Ingallinera said. "Look at what we did. We wiped out the bears in California. Wolves in the Lower 48, they used to be in every state."
With the protest a couple of hours old, Ingallinera said they were running out of postcards and would have to run to the local store for more.
"Most people are supportive," she said. "So far, no one has said anything bad."