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The Other Side of the Wolf Hunt

5:25 PM, Sep 12, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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As much as I'd like to believe Sarah Palin herself Army-crawls across the tundra in white, fur-lined skirt-suits to catch wild wolves between her teeth in mid-air without mussing her hair or lipstick, I had to look into the actual facts surrounding the animal-rights group's anti-Palin spot, linked by John.

Aren't liberals the ones who are supposed to love stories about subsistence hunters struggling to live sustainable lives in tiny carbon footprints, as Gaia intended? That's part of the justification for Alaska's aerial hunting of wolves, according to a Washington Post piece from 2003, the year the current law allowing it was signed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski. ($)

Willie Petruska came home from his annual hunt last year without a moose, for the first time ever. For Petruska, whose family depends on the meat a moose provides for the winter, it is no small matter that restrictions on hunting gray wolves have led to a sharp decline in the moose population.

"I've seen a lot of wolves killing the calves," said Petruska, 64, who lives in Nikolai, about 200 miles from here, and has been hunting in this part of central Alaska for much of his life. "A lot of people never got their moose last September."

Predator control is a pretty big issue in a state with a bigger population of big game, big-game hunters, and the big predators who threaten both than most of us get to experience in the lower 48. Strategies for dealing with the wolf/bear threat to both human and moose populations have evolved, from poisoning in the early part of the century, to unregulated aerial hunting for sport, to a banning of sport aerial hunting in 1972, to aerial hunting by government officials only, and to the current law, which allows private citizens to hunt wolves from the air in five designated rural areas of the country.

Opponents of the practice got an initiative on an August ballot that would have limited the practice to instances when the commissioner of the "Alaska Department of Fish and Game finds that a 'biological emergency' exists and has adequate scientific proof,"($) according to an AP story from Alaska published in August.

The ballot initiative failed, with more than 60 percent of voters saying no to the restrictions, despite the fact that Alaskans had voted for such measures twice before in 1996 and 2000. Defenders of Wildlife, the producers of the anti-Palin spot, were co-sponsors of that measure.

Predator control was at least a minor issue in 2006 gubernatorial debates in Alaska, during which Palin said, "If I am elected, I don't want you to be surprised that I am a proponent of predator control in order to build those populations of moose and caribou." Tony Knowles, her Democrat opponent, was against the practice.

In 2007, the state reported that "aerial moose surveys show moose increased by 14 percent and calves by 110 percent" in one 23,000-acre area subject to predator control.

Culling populations of animals often makes non-hunters squeamish, but it also often makes certain human and animal populations safer. This is an issue the state of Alaska has debated and voted on repeatedly, and the Defenders of Wildlife are just reveling in having a national stage on which to make their losing argument.

Palin's line on this should be, "Listen, as a governor of Alaska, sometimes you have to deal with big problems. Unlike in many other states, sometimes those problems have really big teeth. I won't be scared of those kind of problems or any others when you send our ticket to Washington, D.C.!"