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PUBLISHED: 4:10 PM on Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Palin support for hunting lifestyle good to hear

It looks like Alaska outdoorsmen have a friend in the Governor's House.

Governor Sarah Palin made a quick appearance at Friday's Alaska Outdoor Council annual banquet in Juneau and reinforced her support for Alaska hunting and fishing families.

It's understandable that a new governor would be courting an active and large group of local constituents like the AOC, which has been a tireless advocate of sportsmen's rights and especially access to wildlife resources for more than half a century.

But what's impressive is that she minced no words about supporting not just hunting, but some controversial wildlife programs like predator control. This suggests that she really understands that hunting and management are critical to the future of all Alaska's wildlife as a renewable, sustainable resource.

"Managing for abundance," was a phrase she used several times.

Palin reminded those attending the banquet that she is both a member of AOC and a Life Member of the National Rifle Association. She had emphasized her ties to both hunting and fishing during her campaign.

And it wasn't just the governor who is paying attention. At least half a dozen legislators were also among the guests.

She also strongly emphasized her commitment reestablish a separate law enforcement force dedicated to wildlife regulations. Her predecessor merged wildlife officers with the state troopers, in a move that cut costs but also cut enforcement of fish and wildlife laws.

"It was a mistake to eliminate them," she said firmly.

Palin encouraged the audience to take an active role in defeating the 2008 ballot initiative that would ban aerial predator control, primarily for wolves and in some cases bears. She is a strong advocate of predator control to protect and increase moose and caribou herds, she said.

"I believe we need to keep tools (like predator control) in the tool box (of the wildlife department)," she said.

In Alaska, it's sometimes easy to forget that support for hunting is not universal, especially on the east and west coasts. I have old friends in the outdoor industry - representing gun, ammo and outdoor equipment manufacturers - who have to hide the identity of their employers and their pastimes.

They would leave home naked before they'd step outside wearing camouflage, for fear of the backlash their families would receive from anti-hunting neighbors.

The reality is that it's a vocal minority, not the majority of Americans, who oppose hunting. According to surveys done by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, nearly 80 percent of Americans support hunting, although less than 10 percent actually hunt.

There has been a recent surge in active hunters nationwide - some 18.5 million hunters contribute more than $30 billion annually to the U.S. economy, translating into about 986,000 jobs. They also contributed $1.5 billion per year in taxes and related fees that are virtually the only funding for conservation programs in America.

In simple terms, were it not for the financial support of American hunters and fishermen, there'd be very little conservation work being done. That applies to Alaska as well as the lower 48.

You might be surprised to know that Alaska ranks sixth among states in percentage of citizens who hunt.

This year about one in six Alaskans (99,954) bought a hunting license, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And about one in three (193,982) bought a fishing license, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That's about triple the national average.

Hunting and fishing to fill the freezer - providing for ourselves from the rich wild resources of our state - goes to the core of being an Alaskan.

It's comforting to see our top state officials understand and are willing to devote their energy to defending "the Alaska lifestyle," in the governor's words.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly, advertising director of the Juneau Empire and regional advertising director of Morris Communications newspapers in Alaska. Send him an e-mail at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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