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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Howling Mad at Election Abuse

Wolf Yesterday, just beyond the foothills at the edge of Anchorage, I walked through Chugach State Park—the third largest state park in America—and I listened to the howling of a wolf in the distance. A few hours later, watching the election returns in downtown Anchorage, I realized that may have been the wolf’s swan song.

Early this morning, with nearly all the votes counted, Alaska's Measure 2 was headed for defeat by a vote of 44 to 56 percent. This wildlife protection proposal would have stopped the unsporting and inhumane practice of shooting wolves, grizzly bears, and wolverines from airplanes and helicopters. The state’s brutal aerial hunting program—private hunting under the guise of predator control—has already claimed the lives of nearly 800 wolves.

This was the third time in a dozen years that Alaska voters have been faced with the issue. They decisively approved similar ballot initiatives to stop aerial gunning of wolves in 1996 and 2000, only to have state legislators thumb their nose at the people and overturn both public votes.

The “Yes on 2” campaign led by Defenders of Wildlife, Alaskans for Wildlife, and other groups sought to show lawmakers that voters meant it the first time when they placed limits on aircraft-assisted predator shooting. An editorial in the Anchorage Daily News said it best: “This is the right way to go. And it’s nothing new.”

So what went wrong? The big-money trophy hunters at Safari Club International—the main contributor to the “No” campaign—knew from past experience they couldn’t win on the merits of chasing wolves with helicopters and shooting the exhausted creatures for fun. So they convinced their cronies at the state legislature and the Alaska Board of Game to spend $400,000 on brochures and radio ads to get people to vote their way.

These state-sponsored “educational materials” touted the supposed benefits of shooting wolves from the sky—and they used public money to wage the campaign. Voters should be howling mad at these shenanigans, and the unlawful use of state funds to sway the election results, but a majority of the public failed to see through these illegitimate efforts.

It’s the same type of electoral abuse we saw in California, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to funnel $3 million from federal check-off funds to the egg industry’s political campaign opposing Proposition 2. Our opponents have deep pockets and dirty tricks, and they have a stranglehold on politicians and executive agencies willing to undermine the work of the people.

This unethical interference in elections by state and federal agencies makes it more urgent than ever that we work to counter their deceptions and distortions. And the unfortunate outcome on Alaska’s Measure 2 makes it all the more important for the U.S. Congress to take action on aerial hunting.

By passing the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act, federal lawmakers can make sure that the shooting of wolves and other wildlife from aircraft is prohibited nationwide. Wolves are facing threats not only in Alaska but also in the lower 48 states—and their fate shouldn’t be left to the whims of state bureaucrats.

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