A national sportsmen's political group has rallied to the defense of Gov. Sarah Palin and Alaska's predator control program, drawing new attention to questions surrounding the program's scientific underpinnings.
In a letter to Palin, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance defends the state program as rigorously regulated and scientifically based. The group attacks a recent "public relations blitz" by Defenders of Wildlife as a publicity stunt, saying effective wildlife management requires that "emotional pleas not substitute for reasoned analysis."
The Sportsmen's Alliance is a national political coalition of sporting groups, mostly local and regional groups. Eight organizations, including the Boone and Crockett Club, co-signed the group's letter to Palin.
The Defenders campaign began a week ago with an Internet-based video by actress Ashley Judd criticizing Alaska's program, which is intended to build up moose and caribou numbers. The Defenders Web site described the video as the first step of a larger campaign aimed at Palin's conservation policies, promising future critiques of polar bear and endangered-species policies.
The aerial wolf-hunting theme drew surprising media attention, however, leading to an appearance on Larry King's CNN talk show by Judd and Roger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.
The clash between science and emotion has been a consistent theme of the long-running predator control debate, with each side claiming the other has abandoned science.
Defenders' Alaska representative Wade Willis derided the U.S. Sportsmen's letter Thursday as the work of the "commercial hunting industry," which he said was the true beneficiary of predator control in Alaska. He said national scientific organizations have lined up in opposition to the state program.
The state Department of Fish and Game published a brochure last year that described the science behind "intensive management." Fish and Game said areas chosen for predator control are studied closely beforehand, with aerial surveys, radio-tracking, calf mortality studies, weight measurements and browse surveys among the techniques used to assess effectiveness.
"They do none of it," Willis charged. He pointed to a new proposal for extending predator control to the middle Yukon River, where the state draft plan bases its estimate of wolf populations on extrapolations from other areas. That plan is coming up at a Board of Game meeting in Anchorage later this month.
Fish and Game's brochure noted that predator control efforts are ultimately based on "value-based decisions," not science.