Why Does Sarah Palin Support Shooting Wolves in Alaska?

Gov. Sarah Palin supports the aerial hunting of Alaskan wolves

Gov. Sarah Palin supports the aerial hunting of Alaskan wolves

The state of Alaska may no longer loom as large in the American consciousness as it did during the presidential election, but enviros won’t let us forget failed GOP veep candidate Gov. Sarah Palin’s support for aerial wolf hunting. Conservation watchdog Defenders of Wildlife this week launched the Eye on Palin Web site to spotlight the moose-hunting Alaska chief exec’s “Anti-Wolf, Anti-Wildlife Agenda”.

“I am outraged by Sarah Palin’s promotion of this cruel, unscientific and senseless practice, which has no place in modern America,” actress and animal activist Ashley Judd said in a press release. “Because she is apparently determined to continue and expand this horrific program, I am grateful that Defenders will aggressively fight to stop her. I am proud to be a part of that effort.”

Palin took the attack as an affront to her state’s livelihood.

“Alaskans depend on wildlife for food and cultural practices which can’t be sustained when predators are allowed to decimate moose and caribou populations,” she said in a statement, “Our predator-control programs are scientific and successful at protecting vulnerable wildlife.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, predators kill more than 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die there in a given year. To keep predator populations in check, the state currently has five wolf-control programs covering about 9.4 percent of the state’s land area. “Successful programs allow humans to take more moose,” its Web site claims, “and healthy populations of wolves continue to thrive in Alaska.”

The agency lumps bears and wolves together as “effective and efficient predators of caribou, moose, deer and other wildlife,” but it fails to explain why only wolves are targeted-or exactly how the predators affect moose, the most sought after big game animal in Alaska.

To find out more, we asked Shawn Haskell, a wildlife biologist at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department in Saint Johnsbury, who has studied caribou and wolf populations in Alaska and now manages Vermont deer populations.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Why do we need to manage wildlife populations?
We are humans, and we have existed for hundreds of thousands of years as just a small part of nature-but in the past couple hundred years we’ve become a large part of nature. We influence nature simply by existing.  That’s the reason wildlife management is now necessary to conserve the wildlife populations we affect.

How do biologists determine if a population needs to be culled?
First, there’s the biological carrying capacity. Animals, including humans-though we don’t always recognize it-sometimes become too numerous for their own good. That’s when they eat themselves out of house and home: Their body condition goes down, reproductive rates go down, and fawns and calves starve to death during their first week of life because their dams [mothers] have no milk.

Then, there’s what we call cultural carrying capacity, when animal populations become too numerous or too few for human liking. Deer become too many when they are eating your gardens excessively, and you’re hitting them with your cars excessively. They become too few when you can’t find any to hunt. So, there’s a happy medium somewhere from a cultural perspective.

Why do Sarah Palin and her Alaskan neighbors want to shoot their wolves?
My guess is the areas where they want to aerial hunt and cull wolves are areas where rural residents are saying “We used to have more moose, we used to have more caribou.”

They want caribou and moose to eat, and predators can be their direct competition. It really is that simple. You’ll find lots of scientific studies driven by data that show you can increase prey populations by shooting predators. You can look at the habitat and say that a range could support three moose per square mile, yet we have less than one. It’s a no-brainer really.

Wolves, however, aren’t necessarily the big problem. Bears can be a bigger issue than wolves when it comes to the survival of moose young.

Bears? Why aren’t people shooting bears from planes?
The whole predator control focus seems to be aimed at wolves from a general standpoint. I’m not sure that’s always appropriate.

Bears are held to a different standard. You have to hire a guide to hunt a bear if you are a nonresident-it’s a big business in Alaska. They are also less visible. Wolves exist in packs. They howl at night when they are hunting. When I’m out moose hunting in the Alaska range, I hear wolves but not the bears. Bears are a very good predator. They are very smart and capable. They are omnivores, which is one reason they don’t get as much attention. Black bears and grizzly bears know when the fawn crop hits the ground. They kill a lot of moose calves. Studies have shown that bears are as big or a bigger issue for moose in south central Alaska.

Wolves are more tied to caribou. When a caribou calf hits the ground, its up and running. If you’ve ever seen the Planet Earth videos, you’ll see a wolf chasing a three-week old caribou calf for miles on end. The little sucker can run. A bear can’t catch them. Moose calves have a “hider” strategy. They hide in the vegetation, and that makes them susceptible to bears.

That’s why I find it very interesting that people want to increase moose populations, but they talk about culling wolves. I’ve questioned that myself.  It doesn’t have to do with science, it’s just the way it is.

So it might make sense to kill wolves if managers were just interested in boosting caribou populations?
It’s actually possible that culling the wolf colony on the North Slope of Alaska created conditions that gave rise to the caribou now called the Central Arctic Herd. They didn’t used to exist until wolves were moved from that area. Wolves and caribou calving grounds don’t mix. Wolves exhibit surplus killing behavior. They kill every calf they find, even if they don’t eat them.

Alaska had an aerial wolf eradication campaign in the 1950s; the oil fields came in with exploration in the 1960s, and then the government established the native village of Nuiqsut in the 1970s. This reduced the wolf population on the North Slope to the point where all of the sudden it became feasible for it to be a caribou calving ground. It’s speculation, but it’s very interesting.

But caribou herds also migrate: They come and go in space and time in very big ways. You can manage them but they are certainly a lot less manageable than moose populations.

Brendan Borrell
Scientific American

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4 responses to “Why Does Sarah Palin Support Shooting Wolves in Alaska?

  1. From The Article: “According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, predators kill more than 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die there in a given year.”

    This is total BS… if you take into account the hundreds of moose killed by the Alaska Railroad every year, not to mention the hundreds that are killed on our highways in a given year… I would say that 80% is a LIE…

    I live in Alaska and I am tired of people like Sarah Palin trying to make the world believe that we all live off of subsistence hunting. Caribou and Moose populations out number wolves 20 to 1 in Alaska, so there is no logic in saying that killing wolves helps the moose and caribou populations. It is a ridiculous theory.. but it is aimed at protecting the Moose and Caribou so that the TROPHY HUNTERS who give our great state so much money every year, can hunt them down and shoot them for some kind of morbid wall display. It is ridiculous and there is no place for aerial wolf hunting in North America.

  2. There is a lot of confusion about Sarah Palin and her support of aerial wolf hunting. We are former 20+ year Alaska residents, and my husband, a hunter, was appointed to the Alaska Board of Game by former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles in 2000. The 7 member Board makes wildlife management decisions for the state. The current Board has approved aerial wolf control. http://www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/gameinfo/index.php

    We made the 10 minute video, End Aerial Wolf Hunting, in Jan of 2008 using testimony from Alaska Department of Fish & Game staff, a master hunting guide, and Board of Game members. http://current.com/items/88811075/end_aerial_wolf_hunting.htm Although the video has not been updated since the ballot initiate vote in August of 2008, the testimony, documentation, and research has not changed. The video also references a study done by the National Research Council and the American Society of Mammalogists. http://www.alaskawolfkill.com/Palin_Letter.html

    This video exposes the fallacy behind Governor Sarah Palin’s claim that predator control is based on sound science. Declarations that the program is for the benefit of subsistence hunters are shattered with documentation showing that sport and trophy hunters take up to 73% of prey in areas where aerial wolf hunting has taken place.

    A 4 1/2 minute version of the video can be seen here: http://current.com/items/88816799/end_aerial_wolf_hunting_short_version.htm

    Five years in the making, this video exposes the truth about the stranglehold the hunting lobby has on wildlife management in Alaska.

  3. While I understand that human intervention may be necessary to control wildlife populations, I don’t understand the methods we use.

    First of all, we should all recognize that human intervention is only necessary because of the human interference with the natural population cycles. Maybe we should manage the human population in these areas as well?

    Also, why are they killing the wolves? There are other areas of North America that have seen a tremendous reduction in the number of wolves. At the very least, they could be relocated.

    Finally, I think that allowing hunters to cull the prey instead of the natural predators violates the laws of nature. Natural predators kill the weak, sick and young. This keeps herds of prey strong and healthy. Hunters, on the other hand, kill the biggest and strongest members of the herd. In the long run, this practice will destroy the gene pool.

  4. Baloney. Palin wants the wolves shot for the elite trophy hunters, such as the Safari Club. They go on canned hunts where the animal has no chance. As the wolves have no chance. And there is big money in killing. The trophy hunters get a tax deduction if they donate the animal to a non-profit. Thousands of dollars…I am now wondering if Palin gets some $$$ too. Of course she must. So the IRS and we ole tax payers are funding much of this.

    And now, this year it is ok to kill the wolf pups too!? The female wolves’ birthing season is February and early March. Nice Gov. Palin.

    Alaskans should be up in arms the way she duped them in the ballot initiative depriving them of the vote to NOT kill wolves and using over $400,000 state money to do so.

    As for wolves munching up the “subsistence food,” as well as taking the caribou away from the trophy hunters, well, wolves do kill. They need to survive. But they eat lots of left-overs from another animal’s kill…say, the bear.

    There is no valid reason to kill these wolves other than the pleasure of killing…and $$$. And Sarah in a humpf wanting to get her way. She is still at it with the polar bears and now the beluga whale.

    You know, she debased the pit bull, but she sure does hold on.

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