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March 19, 2010

Alaska's Aerial Gunning of Wolves Should Be Grounded

I’ve always had a special feeling for wolves, even before I was lucky enough to spend several months at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan in the mid-1980s. There, wolves have lived on the 210-square-mile archipelago since they crossed an ice bridge in the 1950s, and they survive by killing moose. The predator-prey dynamics have long been studied there by professional scientists, and one of many lessons we’ve learned from this study is that wolves don’t wipe out their prey base, even on a small island. Because it is a national park, there is no killing of wolves or moose by hunters or other people.

Wolf in snow
iStockphoto

Maybe it’s my particular affection for wolves that causes me to be so outraged by the state of Alaska’s aerial wolf gunning program which resumed this week. After a fresh coating of snow to make the aerial spotting and shooting even easier, personnel from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game took to fixed winged aircraft and helicopters to kill large numbers of wolves in the upper Yukon-Tanana region near Tok—with the goal of killing 80 percent of the wolves in the region. It’s not done because the wolves in this area threaten livestock or people; in fact, there are hardly any people, and no livestock, in this vast wild area. The offense: wolves doing what wolves do—they hunt and kill caribou and moose in order to survive. It would be like Isle Royale officials killing the wolves on the islands because they kill moose, even though that’s the only option the animals had. It’s madness, and it underscores so much that’s wrong with modern wildlife management today.

Many state fish and wildlife agencies cater to sport hunting enthusiasts by managing deer, elk, moose, and caribou for elevated population levels. They treat wild areas as open-area wildlife game ranchers, viewing wild ungulates like cattle and sheep, and killing the predators that threaten them—just like ranchers do. More predation by wolves, bears, or mountain lions means fewer game animals for hunters to shoot. They’ve got an economic stake in the matter: with inflated populations of hoofed game mammals, they can sell more hunting licenses and generate revenue for their bureaucracy.

The Protect America’s Wildlife Act, H.R. 3381 by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and S. 1535 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would close the loophole in the federal Airborne Hunting Act and stop the destructive actions of state officials in Alaska. It’s a good time to call your elected officials in Washington and remind them to cosponsor this legislation.

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