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By John Frank October 1, 2008

Palin supports aerial shooting, for a reason

Produced by the political arm of the Defenders of Wildlife Action, a new television ad takes aim at Sarah Palin’s position on wildlife issues. The minute-long video starts by juxtaposing Palin’s darkened picture with majestic images of a bear and a wolf, while an announcer talks about her support for an aerial predator-control program.

"The more voters learn about Sarah Palin, the less there is to like. As Alaska governor, Sarah Palin actively promotes the brutal and unethical aerial hunting of wolves and other wildlife," the narrator says.

"Using a low-flying plane, they kill in winter, when there is no way to escape. Riddled with gunshots, biting at their backs in agony, they die a brutal death. And Palin even encouraged the cruelty by proposing a $150 bounty for the severed foreleg of each killed wolf. And then introduced a bill to make the killing easier," the narrator says. "Do we really want a vice president who champions such savagery?"

The ad shows grisly video footage: low-flying aircraft with gunners leaning out the door shooting wolves and bears from the air. The plane later lands and the shooter finalizes the kill. In one picture, a wolf’s carcass hangs from one of the plane’s wing braces.

For this item, we'll focus on the claim that Palin promotes "aerial hunting of wolves and other wildlife."

Palin’s record on the issue is actually quite clear. As a candidate, and as governor, the Republican has endorsed wildlife management practices that include the controversial use of airplanes to thin out predator populations.

But in Alaska, frontier politics look different than they do in the Lower 48. Alaska has vast populations of wolves, bears, caribou and moose, and sportsmen who hunt and sometimes live off those species.

"If I am elected, I don’t want you to be surprised that I am a proponent of predator control in order to build those populations of moose and caribou," Palin said, according to news reports from a gubernatorial debate in 2006.

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Alaska state officials take issue with the use of the phrase "aerial hunting," preferring "aerial shooting."

"The predator-control program that we do — that isn’t hunting and we never claimed it is," said Tim Barry, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. "It deliberately gives hunters an unfair advantage. That’s what we want."

It’s tougher to assess the ad’s subjective assessment that such practices are "brutal and unethical," though many wildlife groups would agree. Defenders of Wildlife has filed lawsuits challenging Alaska’s wildlife management practices. President Rodger Schlickeisen said his group takes the view that any killing of animals, outside of a biological emergency, is unwarranted. In September 2007, more than 120 scientists signed a letter to Palin that questioned the biological basis for the state’s intensive predator management.

Aerial hunting has been banned since 1972 in every state but Alaska, which gets around the federal law by claiming that predator population control is more important.

The ad is missing an important note of context. Unlike other areas around the United States where wolf populations are smaller, Alaska officials count between 7,000 and 11,000 in the state. Wolf populations are managed in five parts of the state as part of a program that began in 2003 under former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

In 2007, Palin’s administration proposed enhancements to encourage hunters to kill more wolves when it became clear that not enough wolves were being taken out of the population to meet the state’s goal for the year. Palin’s office announced a plan to pay hunters $150 for each wolf killed with the money to be paid when hunters turned in the left foreleg of dead wolves to state biologists. The program was axed by a judge who ruled it an improper bounty on wildlife.

"I have said many times that my administration is committed to management of game for abundance, and to a proactive, science-based predator management program where appropriate," the governor said in a news release at the time.

We find her actions are adequate to support the statement that she promotes aerial shooting. But the environmental group’s categorization of the program is debatable and not putting it within the context of a state predator management program is a bit misleading. We find the claim is True.

Our Sources

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund,  "Put Palin’s Wolf-Killing Record on Television" , the video

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, About Sarah Palin

Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Predator Control in Alaska

Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Press release: ADF&G Enhances Predator Control Efforts; Commissioner Directs Testing of New Ideas," March 21, 2007

Anchorage Daily News, "State puts bounty on wolves," By Alex DeMarban, March 21, 2007

Anchorage Daily News, "Judge orders state to stop wolf bounties," by Alex DeMarban, March 31, 2007

Interview with Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders for Wildlife Action Fund, Sept. 24, 2008

Interview with Tim Barry, Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Interview with Brian Jones, McCain-Palin campaign, Sept. 23, 2008

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Palin supports aerial shooting, for a reason

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