On February 2nd, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund launched a new campaign – Eye on Palin – to draw awareness to Alaska’s barbaric wildlife management policies. "Sarah Palin isn't fading into the background, so neither are we," commented Action Fund President Rodger Schlickeisen. "Given her known political aspirations, the American public deserves to know what she's doing in Alaska, and about her extreme anti-conservation policies. The list is long, and we will document it all, from her continued promotion of the aerial slaughter of wolves and bears, to her lawsuit to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, even as the sea ice melts beneath it."
Action Fund spokesperson Ashley Judd narrates the Eye on Palin video commercial that is storming across the internet. Judd’s celebrity status has enabled her to speak on behalf of Alaska’s wolves on national media outlets such as Larry King Live and The View. The campaign couldn’t come any sooner. Next month, the Alaska Board of Game is set to vote on a variety of proposals which would expand the hunting and trapping of wolves, bears and other predators.
Many might wonder, as Larry King did, why care about a wolf issue? A deeper look at the politics surrounding aerial hunting is quite relevant because it reveals how Palin operates as a leader – something most voters were left guessing about since she was shielded from the media throughout the campaign.
Wildlife management politics in Alaska reveals Palin to be a leader who blatantly disregards science. Over 124 wildlife biologists from the United States and Canada have spoken out against Palin’s predator control policy in Alaska. The scientific community, outside of game and fish biologists appointed by Palin, denounces Alaska’s wholesale extermination of predators. Predators such as wolves are actually necessary to keep prey populations in balance by culling out the weak, sick. and elderly animals.
Alaskan wildlife biologist Dr. Stephen Stringham describes the situation. “Predator-prey management decisions are governed less by rigorous science than by politics. Those politics are controlled by people with a comic book biology belief that reducing predation pressure by bears and wolves will automatically maximize the number of moose and caribou available for people to harvest. In fact, moose and caribou are adapted to predation pressure and may not fare well without it -- a pressure that hunter harvest does not adequately mimic. Ill-conceived predator control could do more harm than good even from the perspective of people whose only interest in wildlife is killing it, not enjoying live animals living free from fear of every human they detect.”
Even more disturbing, Palin is a leader who directly thwarts democracy. One of the most troubling aspects of Sarah Palin’s devotion to shooting wolves from helicopters is her use of tax payer money to buy support for aerial shooting. Alaskans have voted twice to ban aerial hunting. Palin initially circumvented this ban by declaring a “wildlife emergency” and authorizing game and fish officials to keep shooting. In 2008, a third ballot measure on aerial hunting went before voters.
The wording on this measure was purposefully designed to confuse opponents of aerial shooting. More egregious, in the months prior to the vote Sarah Palin spent $400,000 of state money to "educate" Alaskans about the necessity of aerial hunting. Buying votes with state funded propaganda worked - proposition two which would have banned aerial hunting for a third time was voted down on August 26, 2008.
Aerial shooting isn’t the only wildlife management issue where Palin disregards the will of Alaskans. The majority of Alaskans oppose the hunting of bears who have been habituated to bear viewers. These bears are unafraid of humans, and thousands of tourists a year flock to Alaska for the chance to safely view wild grizzlies. Even the majority of Alaskan sport hunters oppose shooting bears in areas where they have learned to trust human bear viewers
Palin, however, refuses to close bear hunting in areas like the Katmai Preserve, which is heavily used by bear viewers. In fact, Palin has gone out of her way to thwart the bear viewing industry, despite the fact that it generated $100 million last year. The majority of tourists come to Alaska to view wildlife, not to shoot it. The state of Alaska , however, refuses to set aside state land for non consumptive users like wildlife viewers and photographers.
Palin’s response to the increased scrutiny of her wildlife policies shows her to also be a leader who demonizes dissent. Governor Palin released the following statement in response to the Eye on Palin campaign.
“The ad campaign by this extreme fringe group, as Alaskans have witnessed over the last several years, distorts the facts about Alaska’s wildlife management programs. Alaskans depend on wildlife for food and cultural practices which can’t be sustained when predators are allowed to decimate moose and caribou populations. Our predator control programs are scientific and successful at protecting vulnerable wildlife.”
Palin’s characterization of Defenders Action Fund as an “extreme fringe group” reveals her adherence to a political ideology whereby any form of dissent is defined as “radical”, “extreme” or “socialist”. This is a convenient way to link activism to terrorism – the most extreme expression of views from “fringe” groups.
Defenders President Roger Schlickeisen responded to Palin’s statement by pointing out that his organization has been in existence longer than Alaska has been a state, and has more members than the state of Alaska has residents. Hardly fringe indeed. Palin doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that America voted in 2008 for plurality of beliefs and the right to express them without fear of winning a permanent vacation to Guantanamo. The ironic thing is that Palin is the one who holds extreme views across a vast spectrum of political issues.
Palin is in fact the one unabashedly distorting the truth. Palin asserts that aerial hunting of wolves is about feeding poor, rural Alaskans. But Defenders Action Fund asks why are sport hunter groups the biggest advocates of aerial hunting as opposed to advocates for the poor or hungry? Why does the Palin administration allow out of state hunters to hunt and directly compete with rural hunters for supposed limited resources in most of the areas where aerial hunting is done? Why does Palin oppose what is called “rural preference” which would give true rural subsistence hunters priority access over sport hunters in the areas where aerial hunting is conducted?
If Palin were truly concerned with balancing prey species, why hasn’t she appointed a single scientist to Alaska’s Board of Game (BOG), which votes on most wildlife management decisions in Alaska? The board is comprised entirely of trophy hunters. Biologists and wildlife viewers have been asking for a seat at the table. So who did Palin appoint in 2008 to fill a BOG vacancy? Her middle school basketball coach. His qualifications? An “enthusiasm for hunting, fishing and carving antlers”. Being an avid trophy hunter continues to be the one and only qualification for Board of Game members. This is convenient if (like Palin) you support unregulated sport hunting, because in Alaska sport hunters are the ones responsible for regulating sport hunting.
I never thought I would utter “worse than George W. Bush” when describing a potential presidential candidate. An examination of Palin’s wildlife management reveals that she is cut from the same cloth as W. – unabashedly lying to the public, appointing incompetent personal friends to government positions, disregarding science as rubbish, describing dissent as radicalism, and buying votes when the will of the people thwarts her political agenda.
Roger Schlickeisen concludes, "While the country moves on in a new wave of hope and determination to solve our nation's problems, Governor Palin is still stuck in the last century, along with the other global warming deniers. But our new website will track every harmful step she takes with regard to Alaska's environment and natural resources."
To learn more visit www.eyeonpalin.org
Jessica Teel is a full-time Alaska resident, volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and freelance writer who studies grizzly bears in Alaska. Read more about Sarah Palin’s wildlife management track record on Jessica’s website
Photo of wolf by Gary Kramer.