On Aerial Wolf Hunting In Alaska.


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Dear EarthTalk: What is aerial wolf gunning and why does Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorse the practice?

Aerial wolf gunning involves stalking and shooting wolves from low-flying planes and helicopters. The practice yields better results than traditional ground-based hunting since it allows hunters to cover lots of ground quickly and track prey from an unobstructed “bird’s eye” vantage point. For these very reasons, some hunters – as well as many environmentalists and animal rights advocates – consider aerial hunting unsportsmanlike and even inhumane since it violates the “fair chase” ethic.

Aerial hunting is mostly forbidden on U.S. public lands per the Federal Airborne Hunting Act, passed by Congress in 1972. But individual states can allow it for the sake of protecting “land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life or crops.” Alaska governor Frank Murkowski exploited this language in 2003 and signed a state bill allowing Alaskans to apply for permits to kill wolves which some Alaskans fear take a large toll on the moose and caribou that hunters like to shoot from aircraft.

But when Sarah Palin, herself an avid hunter, took over the governorship in 2006, she instituted a $150 bounty for any hunter who killed a wolf from an aircraft in select areas where moose and caribou populations were not as large as hunters would have liked. A state judge quickly put a halt on the bounty, ruling that the Palin administration lacked the authority to offer such payouts. But the judge was powerless to stop aerial hunting itself as long as it was done in a permitted fashion in the name of “predator control,” per the loophole in the federal ban.

Palin also approved a $400,000 state-funded campaign that helped undermine a recent ballot initiative to ban aerial hunting, and also introduced legislation to ease restrictions on the practice. In the four years Palin has been governor, upwards of 800 wolves have been killed by aerial hunting in Alaska. Palin has joined influential groups such as the Alaska Outdoor Council in maintaining that wolf populations need culling, as the great canines are literally stealing food from the tables of Alaska’s many subsistence hunters who rely on moose and caribou kills to feed their families through the long cold winters.

But Rodger Schlickeisen of the non-profit Defenders of Wildlife says that it is Alaska’s small but politically influential commercial hunting interests’ not subsistence hunters who want to keep aerial wolf-gunning alive in the 49th state. “Their clear intention is to eliminate as many of nature’s major predators as possible to artificially increase moose and caribou numbers where it’ll then be easier for urban and wealthy out-of-state hunters to shoot their trophy animals,” he says, adding that scientific data do not show the need for stepping up predator control efforts.

Schlickeisen insists that most regular Alaskans are opposed to aerial hunting, even for the purpose of predator control. “Twice in the past 12 years, Alaska voters have approved state ballot initiatives to limit the use of aircraft to kill wildlife and twice the state legislature, encouraged and abetted by the [appointed] board of game, has overridden the citizen-passed laws to restore use of aircraft,” he says.

CONTACTS: Alaska Outdoor Council; Defenders of Wildlife.

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  1. This is really interesting. I’d been wondering about this matter since the 2008 election, because I’d heard Sarah Palin denounced as a promoter of aerial wolf hunting.

  2. Thank you for bringing this up. In my area, we get hunters that have to thin out the growing deer population because there are no natural predators and the forest cannot sustain this many herbivores.

    We have mastered many arts and in the process we forgot how to live balanced life. Sadly, the systematic destruction of healthy/balanced ecosystems is a token of our sophisticated society. We have over-evolved to a point that we cannot associate ourselves with nature anymore. We are urban species cocooned in our air-conditioned houses “safe” from the nature. I can only ask: for how long?

  3. I wish they would take it out of the political arena, and something to be using to get votes.
    They/we have thrown off the balance of nature and now need to do what we can to put it back into balance as much as we can. And using the boogey man picture of wolves, instead of what they are needed to balance out the other species. They over hunted in some areas, underhunted in others, and in some areas have huge prairie dog towns. Then the ranchers complain about them. We need to work with nature, not against it. And it they want to hunt the wolves, balance out the playing field, and get out of those helicopters and do it on the ground! It is like using a rifle that has multiple rounds to hunt a deer! Why would you eat it with all the bullets you put into it. At least now they are donating the meat to banquets to feed a community near by, instead of only taking the head and leaving the rest.

  4. I agree – I don’t necessarily have a problem with hunting for food, but like you said, this is akin to hunting deer with a machine gun. I hope it stops soon, or at least moves onto the ground.

  5. Wolf meat is not edible by humans. They do not use anything off the animal. It is nothing BUT sport to them. They “claim” to control population, but the carribou the wolves hunt outnumber the wolves 20 fold and there are only 6000 grey wolves (and dropping) in alaska, about 8000 in the US at all and only about 12,000 in the entire world. They are dwindling down to extinction. If the grey wolves were THAT big of a menace to their own lives in alaska, then relocate them. Don’t drive a species into extinction for your own sick twisted pleasure. I have no issues with hunting for survival or food, but again, these wolves can’t be used for either.

    Number of Grey wolves worldwide – 12,000.
    Number of DOGS worldwide – About 2 BILLION.
    Number of Wolf attacks in 2000 years – 350; includes livestock and people (85% of human attacks the wolf was provoked by the human)
    Number of DOG attacks per YEAR – 4.7 MILLION. (77% were unprovoked and family or friends pet)

    (I would never condone the following) It seems to me Dogs are FAR more lethal than wolves. Why don’t they hunt dogs then and not wolves? (again, I would NEVER wish that at all, just for comparison sake)

  6. Surely there must have been a way that the local government could have convinced people that the wolf population needs culling? If game animals (i.e. legitimate hunting animals) were that abundant, it would be blatantly obvious to Alaskans that this was a ploy and the claims were untrue. How is it possible to dupe everyone, so to speak?

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