Governor's Veto Overridden Again on Airborne Wolf Hunting

Alaska Legislature Reinstates Land-and-Shoot Wolf Hunting

(04/25/2000) - Defenders of Wildlife today reacted to the reinstatement of land- and-shoot wolf hunting in Alaska by calling the latest measure a tremendous setback to protection of wolves and a clear disregard for the will of the people of Alaska. On Friday, the Alaska legislature voted to override Governor Tony Knowles’ veto of legislation that reinstates same-day airborne hunting of wolves in the state. The legislation, vetoed by the Governor on April 17, authorizes hunters with a $15 trapping or a $25 hunting license to spot wolves from the air, then land and shoot them immediately.

"This is an indication of how out-of-touch the Alaska legislature is with the people it represents," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Banning this kind of hunting was widely supported by the citizens of Alaska, and the Governor did his part to ensure that this unreasonable practice would end. But clearly the legislature has another agenda."

A widely supported 1996 citizen initiative banned same-day land- and-shoot hunting of wolves and other furbearers by private citizens and barred state management personnel from using aircraft in wolf control programs, except in limited cases of biological emergency. The popular initiative passed with almost 60 percent of the vote.

The legislature last year also overrode a Knowles veto, in that case authorizing State personnel to revive use of aircraft for wolf control purposes, absent any biological emergency. The new override authorizes private hunters to resume same-day land-and-shoot wolf killing and effectively nullifies the 1996 initiative in its entirety.

Governor Knowles in his April 17 veto message declared, "Most Alaskans do not consider it fair chase to track and spot a wolf from an aircraft, land and kill it." The Governor added, "This behavior also invites other unethical, illegal practices such as herding of wolves and shooting them from aircraft before landing."

In testimony opposing the land-and-shoot legislation, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game characterized the return to airborne wolf hunting as "a regulatory nightmare and an invitation to abuse."

"The citizens don’t like the practice or want it in their state; the Governor is opposed to it; and the rest of America wants to recover and protect wolves," said Schlickeisen. "But for some reason, the lawmakers in Alaska don’t care. They want to eliminate wolves any way they can."

In the mid 1990's, State proposals for new wolf control programs led to widespread threats of a tourist boycott in Alaska. According to Joel Bennett, Defenders of Wildlife field representative in Juneau and a former member of the Alaska Board of Game, "The recent override is certain to ignite another firestorm of adverse national reaction to Alaska. This is no longer the direction that a majority of the public wants to go either inside or outside the state. If misguided legislators persist in forcing this issue, there will be a heavy price to pay." Bennett continued, "Not only will Alaska possibly suffer the consequences, but the wolf population in the state will suffer dramatically."

Based on crude state estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 wolves in Alaska, 1,682, or up to 24 percent, were killed in the 1993-94 season when land-and-shoot hunting was in full effect. This figure set a 22-year record high, but still represents only the count of reported kills, with no way accurately to measure unreported take.

Defenders of Wildlife is a leading nonprofit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation’s most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 400,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270