Introduction of PAW Act in Congress
Author: teddygirl | Friday July 31, 2009
The following is from Defenders of Wildlife, an organization that protects all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.
New legislation to end the unnecessary and unscientific aerial gunning of wolves and bears was introduced today in the U.S. Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with original sponsor and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), introduced the bill to the Senate. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), along with over one hundred original cosponsors, introduced the same bill in the House of Representatives. The Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act clarifies the conditions under which states can use aerial gunning.
“This legislation is crucial. Alaska’s program of gunning wildlife from the air has spiraled completely out of control,” commented Defenders of Wildlife president, Rodger Schlickeisen. “This unnecessary program has no science to back it up. The state is setting targets of up to 100% of wolves in some areas, despite having virtually no scientific estimates of wolf populations or the biological need to justify such drastic measures. It’s crazy and irresponsible.”
The PAW Act amends the federal Airborne Hunting Act (1971), which banned the hunting of wildlife from airplanes. Congress did include an exception for wildlife management in the act; however Alaska’s excessive, unjustified and unscientific reliance on the wildlife management exception has prompted conservation societies, scientists and wildlife experts to speak out against the state’s aerial gunning program.
The state aims to virtually eliminate wolves in areas totaling more than 60,000 square miles, with the goal of artificially boosting moose and caribou populations. In some areas, 80-100% of the wolves are targeted, although accurate numbers are difficult to determine due to Alaska’s unscientific wolf population estimates, which are largely based on anecdotal information provided by hunters and commercial hunting guides, and often the very aerial gunners and pilots who are permitted to shoot the wolves.
In March, the state undertook a five-day aerial gunning expedition in the Upper Yukon/Tanana area, during which 84 wolves were killed. State wolf estimates for that area are between 393 and 431, whereas National Park Service estimates put the population in the same area at 165-215, a discrepancy the National Park Service asked the state to address. The request was refused. In addition, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) targeted wolf packs included in a federally funded scientific study, despite concerns from the National Park Service.
“Not only are the ADF&G’s wolf population estimates completely unreliable, but state officials even jeopardized the integrity of a federally funded, fifteen-year study on wolves,” continued Schlickeisen. “We also have audio recordings from the ADF&G’s recent wolf killing spree, illustrating how some wolves were chased by planes for nearly ten miles before being shot. This is precisely the type of unjustified harassment of wildlife that Congress attempted to end when it passed the Airborne Hunting Act more than 35 years ago. Clearly the underlying law needs clarification to put an end to Alaska’s use of this controversial practice, one that should only be used in a biological emergency by trained state wildlife managers, backed up by sound science, as Congress intended.”
Brown and black bears, including sows with cubs, are also targeted by Alaska’s aerial gunning program. While the rules vary slightly – in some regions, bears are located and tracked by aircraft and then the hunter lands to shoot from the ground– the goal is the same, to reduce predator populations to increase prey populations for human harvest.
“Senator Feinstein and Representative Miller have created carefully crafted, responsible legislation that will restore science to its rightful place in wildlife management practices. Without the PAW Act, Alaska, and potentially other states, will continue to flout the intent of Congress to curb this practice, putting at risk the biological integrity of our nation’s last frontier,” concluded Schlickeisen.
Nine former members of the Alaska Board of Game wrote to Rep. Miller and Sen. Feinstein, endorsing the PAW Act.
For more information, visit Defenders of Wildlifes website.