Defenders of Wildlife has put Gov. Sarah Palin in the crosshairs of a new national campaign focusing on Alaska's predator control program as an example of the governor's "wider anti-conservation agenda."
The new campaign features an Internet video in which the actress Ashley Judd says, "It is time to stop Sarah Palin and stop this senseless savagery."
The campaign, unveiled Monday, drew a response from the governor's office Tuesday.
"It is reprehensible and hypocritical that the Defenders of Wildlife would use Alaska and my administration as a fundraising tool to deceive Americans into parting with their hard-earned money," Palin said in a statement.
She called Defenders an "extreme fringe group" that she said was "twisting the truth." Palin defended Alaska's program as scientifically based and an important effort to sustain game populations for Alaska hunters.
The state's predator control program has been in the middle of state and national controversies before. What's different this time is it appears to be the first featured item in a larger campaign aimed at Palin herself.
The new Defenders campaign is called Eye on Palin. The campaign Web site, adorned with photos of Alaska's governor, includes a ticker counting the number of wolves killed in the "aerial slaughter" and another page for donations. The site claims Palin is teaming up with "wealthy special interest groups" to expand control efforts, which the group said were being carried out for the benefit of "out-of-state hunting interests."
The new campaign is being run by the political arm of the national group, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, said Wade Willis, the Alaska representative of the group's nonprofit arm.
On the Web site, the action fund's president vows to extend the campaign to other areas such as the state's opposition to endangered-species protection for the polar bear. The group ran television ads about Palin and predator control during last year's presidential campaign.
"Sarah Palin isn't fading into the background, so neither are we," action fund president Rodger Schlickeisen said on the site. "Given her known political aspirations, the American public deserves to know what she's doing in Alaska, and about her extreme anti-conservation policies."
Palin has not confirmed any future plans for national office. She has said her recent forays into the national spotlight have been to give visibility to Alaska priorities -- though presumably not of this sort.
The state's "intensive management" program targets wolves and bears in six specific zones where moose or caribou populations are judged to be too low. The program has killed more than 800 wolves in five years and a much smaller number of bears.
Four of the plans are scheduled to come before the state Board of Game at its Feb. 27-March 9 meeting in Anchorage. The public comment period for those plans is now open.
The intensive management program allows hunters with permits to shoot wolves from the air. They are required to retrieve the animals and can keep the hides.
The Defenders Web site criticizes Palin for a $150 bounty proposal and a $400,000 state-funded "propaganda campaign."
The bounty was proposed in 2007, when aerial hunters were killing fewer predators than biologists deemed useful. The bounty was rejected by a state court before any money was paid.
The state-funded campaign was created by the Legislature last year as an "educational" campaign about predator control, released before a 2008 ballot initiative. Fish and Game officials said they sought to deliver straight information, but the effort was criticized by some as unfair meddling in a public vote.
The ballot measure, which would have severely restricted the aerial hunting program, failed last August. Two earlier ballot measures opposing the program had passed, only to be undone by later legislation.
The state's predator control program came under criticism last year when state biologists killed 14 wolf pups in their dens as part of a control effort to protect the Southern Alaska Peninsula caribou herd. Biologists say the predator effort there proved successful in ensuring calf survival for a herd that had shrunk in number from 10,000 animals to 600.
Find Tom Kizzia online at adn.com/contact/tkizzia or call him at 907-235-4244.