Historic Turning Point in Protection of Wolves Applauded

(02/26/1997) - Defenders of Wildlife today applauded the law that went into effect this week in Alaska banning same-day airborne hunting of wolves. Defenders and other conservationists say that the new statute marks an historic turning point in one of the most longstanding wildlife controversies in the nation's history. However, the conservationists warn that the degree of success of this popular statute will depend upon timely enforcement.

Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen issued a statement today noting that, "This law is an historic turning point in the two-decades old battle to stop the unsportsmanlike killing of wolves by hunting them with planes and landing and shooting them the same day. But, without enforcement, the new law is not even as good as the paper it is printed on." Schlickeisen continued, "Defenders of Wildlife is calling on the State Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection to specify how it plans to immediately enforce the new statute, through its patrols or other means, to ensure the wolves are given the protection they are due by law."

Schlickeisen offered that because state personnel in Alaska have traditionally been used to support the `control', or killing of wolves, "This will usher in a new era for fish and game personnel in Alaska; protection as opposed to killing- and a new era is what the public wants."

Voters in Alaska's 1996 election decisively approved the ban on same-day airborne hunting ballot initiative by a margin of 58.5 percent. Supporters of the initiative included hunters and non-hunters alike who long believed that the practice of using airplanes to spot and pursue wolves, and then landing and shooting them was unsporting and a violation of basic hunting ethics. A coalition of prominent Alaskans, including a former governor, a former lieutenant governor, and a former commissioner of game and fish worked for more than a year to bring this issue to a vote.

"Given the large margin of victory for this initiative this past November, we are confident of public support," Schlickeisen said. "We are less optimistic, however, that the general public has been adequately alerted to the new law that is now in effect."

Joel Bennett, a co-sponsor of the ballot measure from Juneau warned that the public needs to be aware of the severe penalties for violating the new statute. "Such violations are punishable by a fine of up to $5000.00, up to a year in jail, and could lead to court-ordered forfeiture of the planes used in hunting the wolves."

Schlickeisen agreed that this new era and changing attitudes about wolves are not unique to Alaska, but are increasingly evident all across the United States. "Wolves have been a proven welcome addition to Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding communities. Wolf reintroduction is supported all over the country. It is overwhelmingly favored in Adirondack Park in New York and in the southwestern states such as Arizona. We fully expect the same level of support for reintroduction in the Olympic National Park region in Washington State. The American public is clear - `put the wolves back where they belong and allow them the chance to survive without constant human interference.'"

The 1996 ballot initiative repealed a 1993 state regulation that allowed any individual holding a $15.00 trapping permit to fly over wolf habitat, land the plane near the wolf pack, and open fire on the animals as long as the hunter stayed 100 yards from the plane. This regulation contributed to the unprecedented numbers of wolf kills during the time it was in effect.

Based upon crude state estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 wolves in Alaska, 1,682 were confirmed killed in the 1993-94 season. This figure set a 22-year record high, but still only represented the count of reported kills- with no accurate way of measuring unreported take.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270