The agency points to two areas in particular as examples of where the program is showing strong results: the Nelchina Basin area and the southern Alaska Peninsula.Former governor Sarah Palin was targeted by animal rights activist groups for continuing the program, which was initiated by her predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski. During the fall 2008 presidential contest, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund sponsored an advertising campaign against then-Governor Palin, the GOP vice-presidential candidate, for expanding the program. Featuring actor Ashley Judd, the ad portrayed Palin as a heartless enemy of lovable, furry wolves who promoted the practice of hunting down the animals from aircraft just for the fun of it. The predator control program allows private citizens who obtain the proper permits to shoot wolves from the air or conduct land-and-shoot hunting of wolves in six rural areas of the state.
The program is getting substantive results in the McGrath area, where it began in December 2003. Last winter and spring, 28 wolves were killed in the McGrath area. Nineteen were taken under the program and nine were hunted and trapped.
The agency said the moose population there has grown from 2,774 in 2004 to an estimated 5,500 moose now. The goal is to reach 6,000 to 8,000 moose.
But Palin in fact expanded the predator control program to help rural and native Alaskans who depend on hunting caribou and moose to survive. Those Alaskans had complained that the herd numbers had decreased to the point where there wasn't enough game for them to hunt and feed their families.
The problem is that wolves, and to a lesser extent bears, are such efficient hunters that they had decimated the herd numbers. Compounding the problem is the fact that wolves give birth to litters of usually four or more pups, while moose and caribou calves are almost exclusively the products of single births. That the herd populations have recovered in the areas where wolf hunting was allowed is a vindication of former Governor Palin's policies.
Alaska is not the only state which has predator control issues. Last week a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that gray wolf hunts could continue in Idaho and Montana:
U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy says wildlife groups are failing to show "irreparable harm" from Montana and Idaho wolf hunts, so he will not block hunters from killing the predators.The problem in the Northern Rockies is that the wolves are killing off the local elk population at an alarming rate. But farm animals are also the victims of the wolf packs, one of which recently killed 120 sheep in one night on a ranch near Dillon, MT.
On Wednesday, Molloy announced his ruling to allow the gray wolf hunts to continue in the Northern Rockies, the first organized wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana in decades.
Update: At Sweetness & Light, Steve Gilbert quotes a Salon piece by Mark Benjamin to illustrate just how wrong the watermelons* were on this issue as they used it to slam Sarah Palin. Think we'll be seeing a mea culpa from Benjamin or other wolf huggers anytime soon? Don't count on it.
*(Watermelons are green on the outside, pink on the inside)