In a jarring television advertisement, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund attempts to show a less friendly side of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by noting how the Alaska governor championed an intensive predator management 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?"
For this item, we'll focus on this part of the ad: “And Palin even encouraged the cruelty by proposing a $150 bounty for the severed foreleg of each killed wolf.”
“The cruelty” in question was a state-sanctioned hunt intended to thin out the wolf population. Indeed, Palin’s administration announced the $150 bounty for the “left forelegs of wolves” as part of a larger effort to reduce wolf populations in five areas of the state, according to a press release from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game dated March 21, 2007. The payments are made to volunteer pilots and shooters who are permitted to track and kill predators in the winter months. State biologists planned to use the forelegs as specimens to study the wolf population.
Department spokesman Tim Barry said the idea came from state biologists and Palin’s office played a key role in developing the cash incentive program. Proposals of this nature ultimately are approved by the state’s Board of Game, which is appointed by the governor’s office.
The release contends the payment isn’t a “bounty,” but that’s a matter of semantics. An Alaskan judge who later declared the payments illegal called it a “bounty, pure and simple” in his ruling. In fact, the Defenders of Wildlife Action, which made this ad, was among the conservation groups that took Alaska to court over the incentive program.
What’s missing from the campaign ad is the context about wildlife management in Alaska, and the history of the program.
Unlike other areas where wolves are protected, Alaska officials estimate the state’s vast wilderness holds 7,000 to 11,000 wolves. These elusive predators hunt moose and caribou, which are favorite targets for hunters seeking food and sport in Alaska. In 2003, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski initiated the program to manage the wolf population.
In 2007, the state wanted to kill between 382 and 664 wolves, but the nearly 200 permitted hunters had shot only about 100 wolves as the hunting season neared its April 30 end. High fuel prices and limited snowfall made it hard to track the animals, so Palin’s administration offered the $150 per wolf as an extra incentive “to motivate permittees to redouble their efforts and to help offset the high cost of aviation fuel,” the release states.
The organization behind the ad, along with other environmental groups, filed a lawsuit to stop the payments because wildlife bounties were outlawed in 1984. About 40 wolves were killed after the bounty was offered, but the payments were never made to hunters. The judge struck down the incentive program 10 days after it was announced, Barry said. The advertisement is intended to shock viewers by presenting Palin without the context of political life in frontier Alaska, where wildlife management is a high-profile government function. But the facts are right and the missing context has more to do with sensibilities than factual accuracy. We rate the attack True.