Monday, March 28, 2005

It's True that Just about Everyone in Alaska Has a Gun Rack on His Car . . . or Bike

Alaska: what a great state.

I mean it. I really enjoyed my time there and I'm going back in July. But that doesn't mean I don't think that Governor Murkowski--at least with regard to the natural environment--is nuts.

First, in an interview I saw on Real Time with Bill Maher, he said that he didn't know what amount of oil companies might find in ANWR or whether they would find any at all. Now, I know this to be true because I oppose drilling in ANWR, and one of the reasons is that the availability of oil is questionable. Even if it's there, it's very doubtful whether it exists in economically and politically justifiable amounts.

But he's the guy who's been pushing for oil drilling because it's so good for the country. Can't he at least pretend to be a little more sure of the presence of oil?

Luckily, perhaps, as althippo reports on March 28, 2005, oil companies have been feeling skittish about setting steel to earth on the coastal plain for fear of the legal consequences.

But just when that twinkle of good news--like a little pixie dust--settles on the worried bunch of us who care about humans' responsibilty for the Earth, I read this from Defenders of Wildlife:

The death toll from Alaska’s aerial wolf killing program has reached at least 210, with hundreds more scheduled for elimination by April 30th. Wolves are being shot directly from airplanes, or being chased to exhaustion by aerial gunning teams, who then land and shoot the wolves point blank.

Excuse me? Hold on. Let me clean this wax from my ear with a pencil eraser.

"Wolf-killing program"?

If DOW is to be believed:

The citizens of Alaska have twice voted in statewide measures (1996 and 2000) to ban the aerial killing of wolves. Nonetheless, Governor Murkowski signed a bill two years ago overturning the most recent ban.

"It’s deplorable that Governor Murkowski continues to back the extermination of wolves in key areas across the state even though his so-called predator control programs lack scientifically-based standards and guidelines to monitor the program," stated Karen Deatherage, Alaska Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "Lower-48 and urban trophy hunters are clearly the only beneficiaries of the governor’s ill-advised policy."
Now, I don't know about you, but I understand deer-population culling through hunting. I grew up in Michigan where the white-tailed deer population is at least twice as large as the human population of the state. There were autumns where more dead and mutilated deer carcasses lined highways than stood motionless in every other backyard or along the side of the road, eyes fixed on me, as I rode by on my bike.

One had to wear orange whenever leaving the house, it seemed.

That said, I've never heard of such an aggressive campaign to kill predators, especially ones that are endangered in the lower 48. (Yellowstone visitors salivate over the chance for a fleeting glimpse of a wolf in the Lamar Valley.) And I'm floored by the audacity with which so-called "hunters" are downing these incredible animals. From planes. By exhausting them until they can't run away. I'd link you to the video I watched, but I don't want to make the reader as sick to their stomachs as I was.

I'm ambivalent about most hunting practices. I'm a fisherman--mostly I fly and spin-fish for trout, and I'm intense about it--and about 95% of the time I practice catch-and-release. When I keep the fish, I kill them and eat them and share the goods with friends, cold beers in hand. The hunters I know are good, solid people. Most of them are environmentalists, too. Makes sense.

Killing wolves from planes has nothing to do with hunting or fishing or anything else that I'd remotely consider "sporting." It's slaugher for trophy mounts. But no, the Alaskan government says, it's to increase the moose population.

Aside from the obvious fact that Alaska profits from the licenses purchased by aerial wolf-snipers and the Alaskan economy benefits from their plane rentals, accomodations, and other purchases, my question is: how did the moose population get so out of balance? Hmmm. Did it have anything to do with . . . humans not paying attention to the ecosystem?

To top it off, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game makes this self-contradictory statement:

When the Board determines that people need more moose and/or caribou in a particular area, and restrictions on hunting aren't enough to allow prey populations to increase, predator control programs may be needed. . . .

[Then the next sentence:] Wolf hunting and trapping rarely reduces wolf numbers enough to increase prey numbers or harvests.

Huh? Is that a typo or a brain fart, or, did I just read--in support of wolf hunting--"[w]olf hunting . . . rarely reduces wolf numbers enough to increase prey numbers or harvests." Isn't that the point? Did the person who composed this public-relations piece accidentally include a bit from some objective science report on the effects of the program? What is this?

Those idiots in the Piper Cub flying slowly over panicked gray wolves running for their lives below might as well be shooting family dogs. Of course, it's even worse. Because if they shot my dog, I'd sue them. After my wife and my friends restrained the instinctual me from beating their heads in with a pipe wrench.

I guess that wouldn't be humane.

Don't watch the video.

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