WASHINGTON — At the National Governors Association conference where she first met John McCain, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had other business: making her case to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne against classifying the polar bear as a threatened species.
Months later she sued Kempthorne, arguing that the Bush administration didn't use the best science in concluding that without further protection, the polar bear faces eventual extinction because of disappearing sea ice as the result of global warming.
Palin, McCain's vice presidential running mate, has had frequent run-ins with environmentalists.
In her 20 months as governor, Palin has questioned the conclusions of federal marine scientists who say the Cook Inlet beluga whale needs protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
She has defended Alaska's right to shoot down wolves from the air to boost caribou and moose herds for hunters, and — contrary to a view held by McCain — is not convinced that global warming is the result of human activity.
'Cut, kill, dig and drill'
Environmentalists have nicknamed Palin the "killa from Wasilla," a reference to the small town where she formerly was mayor.
"Her philosophy from our perspective is cut, kill, dig and drill," said John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, maintaining she is "in the Stone Age of wildlife management and is very opposed to utilizing accepted science."
Slideshow: Sarah Palin, VP candidate While acknowledging the climate is changing, Palin expresses doubt as to whether emissions from human activities are causing it. McCain, on the other hand, supports legislation to reduce heat-trapping pollutants, primarily from the burning of oil and coal.
"John McCain was all about global warming and the integrity of the science. The selection of Sarah Palin is a complete reversal from that position," said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who traveled to the South Pole with McCain in 2006 to visit with scientists studying climate change. "She is disturbingly part of the pattern of the Bush administration in their approach to science generally and the science of the environment in particular."
A leader on climate change
The McCain campaign Wednesday characterized Palin as a leader on climate change, noting she set up a sub-cabinet office to map out state response strategies and sought $1.1 million in federal funds to help communities threatened by coastal erosion and other effects.
Palin's administration relied in part on research from scientists funded by the oil industry to fight against the polar bear's listing, arguing that the impact of global warming on the bear 20 years from now can't be predicted. But e-mails obtained by a University of Alaska professor show that the state's marine mammal experts supported the federal government's conclusions on the bear.
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On Thursday, the federal government announced that there was enough scientific evidence to consider listing three ice seal species that inhabit the waters of Alaska as threatened and endangered species because of melting sea ice. The seals use the ice to give birth and raise their pups.
Slideshow: Sarah Palin: Republican star for 2012? Doug Vincent-Lang, Alaska's endangered species coordinator, said the state had not yet taken a position on the ice seals' status.
But he stressed that while there were differences in opinion about the science, the state has supported the protection of other endangered species and its position on the polar bear "was not a decision to protect resource development in the state."
Supporters say Palin, a self-described hockey mom who knows how to handle a gun and dress a moose and once worked as a commercial fisherman, is simply a reflection of her home state, where the extraction of oil, natural gas, gold, zinc, fish and other natural resources is the primary source of state income and jobs.
The polar bear isn't the only wildlife issue where Palin's administration is at odds with environmentalists and at times with the Bush administration and members of Congress.
- Her administration disputes conclusions by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service and its science advisers that the beluga whale population is in critical danger. The state argues that 2007 data shows the whale rebounding.
- Palin opposed a state ballot initiative to increase protection of salmon streams from mining operations. It was defeated.
- She also opposed a ballot initiative barring the shooting of wolves and bears from aircraft except in biological emergencies. It was also defeated.
Under Palin, the state Board of Game authorized for the first time in 20 years the shooting of wolves by state wildlife officials from helicopters. The order resulted in the controversial shooting this summer of 14 one-month-old wolf pups taken from dens on a remote peninsula 800 miles southwest of Anchorage — an act that environmentalists claim was illegal.
State officials characterized the killings as humanitarian, saying the pups would have suffered and eventually died without the care of their parents. Environmentalists argued they were killed to boost caribou populations to the benefit of hunters.
Like many other Alaska officials, Palin argues her critics don't understand the North Country.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who has complained Alaska is killing more wolves than necessary and has pushed a bill that would put additional restrictions on the aerial killing of predators, has been among Palin's targets.
Miller "doesn't understand rural Alaska, doesn't comprehend wildlife management in the North, and doesn't appreciate the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that gives states the right to manage their own affairs," Palin said in a press release a year ago.
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