Update Dec. 31, 2008: The federal bill to ban airborne shooting of animals did not pass during this Congress and is now dead.
Update August 30, 2008: The voters in Alaska did not pass the ballot initiative to stop aerial gunning of wolves, wolverines and grizzly bears.
The Defenders of Wildlife and Alaskans for Wildlife which supported the initiative, said they were outspent by opponents which included Governor Sarah Palin, now Sen. John McCain’s choice for vice president, who along with the legislature approved a $400,000 campaign to defeat the initiative. With Safari Club International also working to defeat the initiative, the amount spent by opponents totaled $750,000.
The vote was 55.6% against and 44.4% for the measure. 75,000 voters approved the initiative.
Palin also led the way this past legislative session on measures to increase hunting in Alaska including by destroying in as cruel a way as possible wolves, wolverines and brown bears. She supported a successful effort to end all wildlife initiatives in Alaska. For more read ALC’s earlier reports below.
Update April 14, 2008: The bills, S.B. 176/H.B. 256 died without passing when the Alaska legislature adjourned on April 13. Good news.
During the last day the legislature passed S.B. 306/H.B. 348, defining wildlife as an "asset", meaning basically there can be no ballot initiatives related to wildlife.
For more on this, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below.
The federal bill, H.R. 3663, that would ban airborne shooting of animals is still pending. Read the original report below for more information including how you can help stop the killing.
Original report: Making sure hunters in Alaska have plenty of animals to kill has long been a statutory goal of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game and Board of Game. Alaska Stat. § 16.05.255 Providing "game" for hunters seems far more important to these Alaska agencies than the more typical goals of conservation and preservation of wildlife.
Now Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin along with the state’s Board of Game propose to amend the state’s laws to require the Board of Game to make sure hunters have even more moose, caribou and deer to kill. Gov. Palin and the Board want to do that by making sure the predators of these game animals, wolves, wolverines and brown bears, continue to die in large numbers in one of the most barbaric, cruelest means possible.
S.B. 176/H.B. 256
The proposed bill, S.B. 176/H.B. 256, would require the Board of Game to identify populations of moose, caribou and deer where there could be a "high level of human harvest". The Board is to maintain this "high level" of "game" for hunting, in part, by destroying predators.
Predators which basically include wolves, wolverines and brown bears could be killed by airborne gunning and other means under a "management plan" if "conducive to achieving the objectives established for human harvest". In other words, airborne gunning or other means must be used to kill wolves, wolverines and brown bears if more moose, caribou or deer are needed for hunters to kill. Click here for a copy of the bill.
This bill has already passed the Alaska House of Representatives.
The Wolf and Bear Protection Act
On the other hand, there is an initiative, The Wolf and Bear Protection Act, that would prohibit airborne shooting of free-ranging wolves, wolverines, or grizzly bears. The only exception allowed would be a limited use by authorities in the event of a "biological emergency" as determined and carried out by the Dept. of Fish and Game if "there is [no other] feasible solution".
The initiative is on the August ballot. Twice before Alaska voters have voted to ban airborne gunning of wolves, but the legislature has overturned the decisions each time.
Now the legislature is trying to make sure citizens can’t pursue ballot initiatives. There is a bill, SB 306/HB 348, that would mean there could be no other ballot initiatives related to wildlife. This bill would redefine wildlife as a state "asset," not subject to a public vote. Click here for a copy of the bill.
It is a sneaky way to keep wildlife initiatives off the ballot. The effect of the bill on wildlife ballot initiatives is not clear from the wording. It is critical to defeat this bill. HB 348 is in the House Rules Committee. Without the right to voter initiatives, the state legislature and Board of Game will clearly use and manage state resources only for the benefit of hunters and other such interests. They have spelled that out in S.B. 176/H.B. 256.
A Federal Ban on Airborne Hunting
A federal bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives would amend the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 (16 U.S.C. 742j-1 and ban aerial gunning of any animal. The only exception under H.R. 3663 would be again, if there is a "biological emergency" and there are no other alternatives. Click here for a copy of the bill.
The bill, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is pending in the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans.
The Cruelty of Alaska’s Airborne Shooting Program
Alaska has for years allowed wolves or wolverines to be hunted down and killed including by aerial or airborne gunning if it is important to achieve some objective of the Board of Game, which it is said to be, or if there is some threatening disease or parasite in the wolf or wolverine population that would spread if left untreated. Alaska Stat. § 16.05.783; 5 Alaska Admin. Code 92.125
The Board of Game has encouraged airborne gunning of wolves and wolverines. So far this year at least 56 wolves have been killed by this method. That doesn’t include the numbers killed by cruel trapping and other means. Airborne gunning or shooting is a particularly cruel, a heinous way to "hunt" these animals. They are literally forced to run for their lives as planes or helicopters chase them. In Defense of Animals reports people have seen wolves vomiting from terror and stress as they try to escape death. Then once they are cornered or have stopped running from sheer exhaustion, the plane or helicopter closes in, and they are shot at point blank range. The wolves are killed randomly, mothers and pups along with males. This brutal plan fails to consider the effect of indiscriminate killing on the wolves’ social structure. There is no plan or thought of preserving at all the wolf population.
This is a program of Alaska’s Board of Game.
No Real Help from the Alaska Courts
Two lawsuits consolidated and pending before Alaska Superior Court Judge William Morse challenge the Board’s program, pointing out various alleged violations of the law in its implementation. The plaintiffs which include Friends of Animals and Defenders of Wildlife, allege the Board of Game regulations to allow wolf and bear population reduction or regulation program are invalid because there was no public notice or opportunity to be heard in violation of the state Administrative Procedures Act, AS §§44.62.200 and 44.62.210.
The plaintiffs also say the Board was required under AS §16.05.783(a) to allow airborne shooting of wolves only "as part of a game management plan." The predator control implementation plans set forth in 5 AAC § 92.125 authorize "airborne or same day airborne shooting" of wolves. But, according to the plaintiffs, these predator control implementation plans are not "part of a game management plan or plans adopted either by the Board [of Game] or by [Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game]."
The plaintiffs claim the Board failed to comply with certain statutory criteria under Alaska Stat. §16.05.255 in developing and implementing the plan. This law allows the Board to implement programs to restore animal populations for hunters.
The plaintiffs also claim the Board failed to apply the principle of sustained yield to wolves as required by this statute and the Alaska Constitution VIII, §4. This means basically in planning, the Board must on some basis maintain the wolf and bear populations.
On March 14, 2008 Judge Morse for the most part granted summary judgment to the State on these claims.
The judge did rule the wolf bounty program was illegal because it was established by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, but said it could be reinstated by the Board of Game. The judge agreed the wolf and bear populations must be managed under the sustained yield principle. The judge also said, though, the current program does not violate that principle.
In one ruling that limited airborne shooting or wolves and bears, the judge determined the Board of Game did not make requisite findings under AS 16.05.7839a)(1) before allowing airborne hunting in some of the geographic areas: The judge said the Board failed to make findings that "predation is an important cause for the failure to reach the objectives set by the Board, and that a reduction in predation can reasonably be expected to aid in the achievement of the objectives". As a result of this ruling airborne hunting was halted in areas covering about 15,000 square miles, about one fourth of the land where airborne hunting is authorized.
After this ruling was issued, the Board of Game conducted an emergency meeting on March 21, 2008. The Board made a finding of emergency and then repealed the existing implementation plans for the areas where the judge had halted airborne hunting in his ruling just days earlier. The Board approved the new findings and re-adopted the implementation plans with a few minor changes. These changes are likely to go into effect soon. The Board has filed a motion for reconsideration claiming it no longer matters that it failed to comply with the law in allowing airborne hunting in the two areas. The Board has simply issued a new plan for airborne hunting with the findings required by law. The public, of course, has had no notice of or say in these "emergency" changes.
If the judge approves this action by the Board, the hunters will be back in business in no time, gunning down wolves from planes and helicopters as the poor, terrified animals try to escape.
To review the pleadings in this case, click here.