It may seem as if I’ve become a broken record on the subject of aerial hunting, and that may be true. But, so what? I wanted to add some information left out of my last post on the subject of aerial wolf hunting in Alaska.
There is something called the Airborne Hunting Act, passed in 1971, which is an addition to the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956. It is also known as the Shooting from Aircraft Act. It prohibits “shooting or attempting to shoot or harassing any bird, fish or other animal from an aircraft”. So far so good, but there is a “but”. Exceptions can be made for certain specified reasons, including protection of wildlife, livestock, and human life. Any fool can see these are exceptions big enough to drive a truck (or an airplane) through. It’s the protection of wildlife exception, specifically the protection of moose and caribou, on which Alaska bases its current regulations.
Where the brouhaha comes in is that Alaska recently changed its law in two ways. If you’re going to hunt wolves, in many cases the only logical way to get to some of the remote areas wolves are found is by plane. But originally, you could not kill a wolf on the same day you flew. (And how exactly would that be enforced?) Some time ago, the law was changed to allow so-called Same Day Shooting. With this law, you could follow the wolf in a plane, but before shooting it, the plane had to land, and the shooter had to be at least 100 feet from the plane. This is a pretty stupid law, because this is where the part comes in about running (harassing, if you will) the wolf with the plane until it was too exhausted to move any more. Then the plane lands, the shooter takes a leisurely stroll 100 feet away, and shoots the wolf. The phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” comes to mind. The first recent change to the law in Alaska says you can now shoot wolves from the air. And you might as well. Same Day Shooting was a farce. The second change is this: at first only officers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could engage in aerial hunting. Now private hunters are allowed to do so as well.
The real question is whether there is a need for wolf hunting at all, except to satisfy the thrill-seeking trophy hunters. There is a situation known as Low Density Dynamic Equilibrium or LDDE, which simply stated means that in a given area, the population of moose is lower that the habitat would support due to predation by bears and wolves. But from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s own website comes the following statement: “LDDE does not present a biological problem–moose are not likely to become threatened, endangered, or extinct due to predation.” http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/management/planning/mcgrath/pred_prey.cfm?
However, the low densities are more of a problem near villages and roads. This same article states that in these areas, people “want or need” to harvest more moose than the system can support. In other words, people have outhunted near the most convenient areas. Wolves have nothing to do with it.
If there is a need to reduce wolf numbers–and there is no evidence that’s true–that does not change the fact that aerial hunting is cowardly, unsportsmanlike, and reprehensible.
In the Lower 48, Wyoming’s plan for wolf “management” once wolves are removed from the Endangered Species List has been rejected in federal court. http://www.starvalleyindependent.com/2008/07/federal-court-decision-changes-wolf-management-in-wyoming/ In the process of reading Wyoming’s plan, I didn’t see any reference to aerial hunting, but it would have allowed poisoning.
It’s still legal in those states where wolves exist for a rancher to shoot a wolf if he/she catches it in the act of attacking livestock. Where there have been multiple attacks, livestock owners can be issued a special “kill permit” which allows them to kill wolves in the area even if they aren’t caught in the act. Defenders of Wildlife pays ranchers the market value of any animal which can be proven to have been killed by a wolf. They have been doing this since the re-introduction of wolves to the Rockies, and have paid out over a million dollars so far. There are other ways to “manage” wolf/people interactions: trapping and relocation, to name one. More use of guard dogs, for another. There are many breeds of herding/guard dogs who are very fierce, Anatolian Shepherds for example.
There is currently a bill creeping its way through Congress to close the loopholes in the Airborne Hunting Act. Let’s hope it finds its way through Congress before Sarah Palin has anything to do with it. Aerial hunting is barbaric and unnecessary. Aren’t we a better country than this?