It was only a few weeks ago that outgoing Gov. Sarah Palin urged her Alaskan constituents to "stick together" against "anti-hunting, anti-Second Amendment circuses from Hollywood." Now two Democrats from California have introduced legislation which would all but ban Alaska's brutal practice of shooting wolves from aircraft.

Palin stirred controversy over the practice during her bid as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, when her support for aerial hunting drew fire from conservation groups. While most aerial hunting was banned in the United States under the 1972 Airborne Hunting Act, Alaska has been allowed to issue permits to shoot wolves from aircraft due to loopholes in the law, so long as the killing is done on non-federal lands. 

That loophole was widened in 2003 when then-Gov. Frank Murkowski signed a bill which essentially invited average citizens and private contractors to participate in the slaughter. But it was Sarah Palin's administration that ramped up the killing to unprecedented levels. Palin didn't just think that citizens should be allowed to hunt wolves from airplanes, she thought they should be paid to do it. In 2007, an initiative was passed to pay a bounty to hunters who shot a wolf from an airplane, chopped off the animal's left foreleg, and then brought it in as proof of the killing.

The practice is justified in Alaska in the name of 'predator control'. According to proponents of the program, predators like wolves are responsible for diminishing stocks of prey animals like caribou and moose. So by limiting the number of predators, the program claims to preserve the prey populations. In other words, the wolves are killed in the name of conservation.

Despite Palin's arduous defense of the practice, aerial hunting has not always been popular among Alaskan voters. They have voted twice in attempts to ban such hunting, only to have their votes overturned both times by the state's Legislature.

But the new federal legislation, proposed by California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. George Miller, would finally close the loopholes for good. The proposal would only permit aerial hunting if state wildlife officials could prove beyond doubt that there was a biological emergency, such as in the case of imminent extinction. Furthermore, even in such an extreme circumstance, only employees of federal and state wildlife agencies could be licensed to do the killing. So for most intents and purposes, this legislation would completely ban aerial hunting.

Feinstein defended her motive in sponsoring the new legislation: "Shooting wildlife from airplanes is not sport — it is cruel and inhumane. It undermines the hunting principle of a fair chase and often leads to a slow and painful death for the hunted animals. This practice should be banned."


Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

California lawmakers to make it illegal for Palin to shoot wolves from planes
Alaska's infamous predator-control program is being challenged by two California Democrats.