Crying Wolf

A gray wolf. (MacNeil Lyons, National Park Service)
What with all the attention lavished on Sarah Palin’s wardrobe and her Saturday Night Live appearance, as the election draws to a close most Americans can be forgiven for not parsing her environmental record as governor. One issue that has received scant attention in the national press, other than on a few online sites (including an excellent piece by Mark Benjamin in Salon), is her support for aerial hunting of wolves, whereby shooters nail them from low-flying planes or chase them till they’re exhausted, then kill their victims at point-blank range. “In early 2007, Palin’s administration approved an initiative to pay a $150 bounty to hunters who killed a wolf from an airplane in certain areas, hacked off the left foreleg, and brought in the appendage,” Benjamin writes. “Ruling that the Palin administration didn’t have the authority to offer the payments, a state judge quickly put a halt to them but not to the shooting of wolves from aircraft.”  Such “predator control” was intended to protect moose populations for hunters.

During the campaign the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund has been an airing a 60-second spot called “Brutal” that juxtaposes images of Palin with graphic footage of a wolf being shot from a plane and, then, strapped on top. “Of all the ads to have aired this presidential campaign, one of the most successful may have been one of the least remarked-upon,” wrote Sam Stein in the">Huffington Post in early October. The ad garnered Defenders more than $1 million on donations, which it used to buy air time in swing states such Ohio, Missouri, and Colorado. “The group’s initial spot scored incredibly well among focus groups. A study of 312 Democrats, Republicans and Independents showed that the ad produced "moderate movement among all parties" in Obama's favor,” Stein writes. “The spot earned a Political Communications Impact Score of 23.5, making it, according to the site Media Curves, the second most effective ad to have aired this cycle.”

But does shooting wolves work? I asked John Schoen, Audubon Alaska’s senior scientist. “We are not categorically opposed to predator control,” he replied. “For example, we strongly supported fox and rat removal from the Aleutians to restore native bird populations there and would not have opposed wolf control on the southern Alaska Peninsula, where the caribou population had declined precipitously. However, sustaining long-term predator control with extraordinary means (e.g., aerial shooting by the public) on wolves or bears to increase harvest levels of moose and/or caribou is not in the broad public interest, nor is it cost-effective, or, in some cases, scientifically supported. The collateral damage to the credibility of Alaska, hunters, and wildlife management, in many cases, may not be worth the gain in additional moose meat.”

I also checked with Ted Williams, Audubon’s Incite columnist, who first wrote about aerial wolf hunting when Alaska enacted the policy in 1993 (although the state later rescinded in the face of a tourism boycott). “Alaska’s wolf control is and always has been a sham,” said Ted. “It’s game production, not game management. I know dozens of biologists who will confirm this. You may recall my piece on the ridiculous ‘wolf summit’ they had in Fairbanks supposedly to let the world know that wolves needed to die so some slob could shoot one more moose from his pickup window. Wally Hickel, the governor at the time, said : ‘You can't let nature just run wild.’ ”

For a copy of Ted’s wolf column, please send an e-mail to

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”