Hands Off the Wolves: Will an Updated Law Be the Answer?
Alaska is home to the largest wolf population in the United States. But it’s hardly hospitable. For decades, they’ve been killed systematically to promote a wild-west mentality that considers high moose and elk populations there for the taking, and a wolf as the hunters’ rival.
Wolves are generally hunted aerially: chased by low-flying airplanes until they are utterly exhausted — before they are shot and killed. It’s a slow, painful and gruesome death, and it should be illegal under the Airborne Hunting Act. But Alaska has figured out a way to exploit a loophole in the law in order to issue permits to shoot them from small aircraft.
An updated version of the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act (H.R. 3381) was introduced on July 29, 2009 in the U.S. House of Representatives (Rep. George Miller D-CA) and, for the first time, in the U.S. Senate (Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-CA). This bill, which is still in subcommittee and pending a revision process as we go to press, could potentially ban aerial wolf hunting this year.
The bill, in its current form, contains some ambiguous language. Under Section 2 of the amended bill, in article 3:
(3) ENHANCING THE PROPAGATION AND SURVIVAL OF WILDLIFE — No person exempted under paragraph (1) may shoot, attempt to shoot, or harass any wolf, bear, or wolverine for the purpose of enhancing the propagation of and survival of wildlife, including game populations, unless—
(A) the head of the fish and wildlife agency of the State and, for game populations on land under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, the Secretary of Interior, or for game populations on land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of Agriculture, determines, based on the best scientific data available, that —
(i) a biological emergency is imminent; and
(ii) all other practicable means to prevent the biological emergency, including stopping regulated takes of the declining population, have been implemented ;
What exactly is a “biological emergency”?
I interviewed the renowned biologist Gordon Haber just before he died last year. An Alaska resident who spent decades studying wolves, Haber said:
Wolves enliven the northern mountains, forests, and tundra like no other creature, helping to enrich our own stay on the planet simply by their presence as other highly advanced societies in our midst. Equally fascinating are the underlying patterns of complexity in the way they interact with other wildlife at broader scales, and the functional similarity between these systems and many other kinds of systems throughout the biological and physical worlds.
I asked Dr. Haber what he thought the term “biological emergency” meant, and if wolves would be safe should this bill pass. Haber offered a nuanced view of the situation, careful to point to the root of the problem: the science that claims that wolves have a negative impact on other animal populations. That has created a terrible situation for wolves and other animals who fall under the auspices of wildlife management.
Dr. Haber stated unequivocally that the reasons often used to justify wolf hunting -- the decline of moose or caribou, for instance -- are false: “There’s absolutely no support for these claims.” What’s accepted as biology by the state’s game board, not surprisingly, is driven by hunting; hunters want plenty of moose and caribou to kill.
Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral has gone to Alaska to press for the strongest possible protections for wolves, including a buffer zone around Denali National Park. We also need to have the Airborne Hunting Act respected.
Please contact your state Senator and congressional representative. Let them know that you support the proposed Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act and want no less than a complete ban on aerial wolf-hunting, and that you want to hear the same from them, right now.
To contact the Senate:
The Honorable (Name)
United States Senate
Washington , D.C. 20510
To contact the House of Representatives:
The Honorable (Name)
The House of Representatives
Washington , D.C. 20515
Friends of Animals will continue to monitor the bill, and will keep members posted (and you can comment too) through our Internet blog: www.friendsofanimals.org
See Lily Huang, “It’s Survival of the Weak and Scrawny” - Newsweek (issue dated 12 Jan. 2009). For related information see Anne Minard, “ Hunters Speeding Up Evolution of Trophy Prey?” - National Geographic News (12 Jan. 2009), citing the same week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.