Press Release

July 29, 2009
Feinstein-Cardin legislation would close loophole in the Aerial Hunting Act of 1971

Washington, DC

– U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today introduced legislation to explicitly ban the inhumane practice of allowing hunters to shoot and kill wildlife, such as wolves, from aircraft.


“Hunting is a part of America’s culture and history, but there is no sport in aerial practices that lead to such cruel and painful deaths for wild animals. This bill will help close the loopholes
and return us to a proper balance between responsible population control and hunting for sport

said Senator Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.
“Every legitimate hunter should support this bill and its goals.”


In 1971, Congress banned aerial hunting of wildlife after gruesome images of the cruel practice were broadcast on television. However, there is a loophole in the law that permits States to allow private citizens to engage in airborne hunting under the guise of wildlife management. For example, the State of Alaska currently allows private citizens to hunt wolves from aircraft, citing the need to protect herds of caribou and moose.


The Feinstein-Cardin legislation would close the loophole in the
Aerial Hunting Act. It would ban civilians from aerial hunting and limit the practice to employees of federal and state wildlife agencies. This will ensure that this practice is used solely for the purpose of responsible and biologically necessary animal population control, such as when the sustainability of a wildlife population’s is significantly threatened by an excess of predators.


The bill is endorsed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and nine former members of the Alaska Board of Game.


“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,”

Senator Feinstein said.

“So, I’ve introduced a balanced bill that will enable states to responsibly manage wildlife populations, but ban the cruel practice of aerial hunting for sport. And it will not impinge on legitimate sport hunting.”



Background on Aerial Hunting


Aerial hunting is typically carried out in one of two ways: 



In the first method, a hunter will shoot the wolf directly from the aircraft while flying overhead.  This frequently wounds the wolf, leading to a slow, painful death.



In the second method, known as “land-and-shoot,” a hunter flying in an aircraft will chase the wolf until it is exhausted, land, and kill the animal from point-blank range. 


The State of Alaska, where airborne hunting is more prevalent, argues that wolf populations must be limited to support sustainable levels of moose and caribou. The State continues to carry out airborne hunting by private citizens with authority from the State Department of Game, which argues that the moose and caribou populations must be increased.


Since 2003, more than 1,000 wolves have been killed from the air in the State of Alaska.  According to the animal welfare group the Defenders of Wildlife, more than 250 wolves have been shot dead during the current hunting season alone.


The Legislation


The legislation introduced today, the “Protect America’s Wildlife Act,” does the following:



Closes the loophole in current law that allows private citizens to hunt from aircraft.

  It limits airborne hunting to employees of state fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.



Eliminates the practice of “land-and-shoot” hunting by prohibiting the chasing or exhausting of animals from an aircraft.   



Provides an exception to allow airborne hunting during biological emergencies, which is defined as a case where a wildlife population’s sustainability is significantly threatened by an excess of predators.



It also ensures that this exception only applies to when it is the only way to prevent a biological emergency, and limits the number of animals killed to a minimum.



Increases fines for violations of the Airborne Hunting Act from $5,000 to $50,000.