Proposal Boosts Game Board's Power
JUNEAU--State Sen. Ralph Seekins is backing a measure that would allow the state Board of Game to implement its own recommendations for airborne predator control programs without the authorization of the governor or his administration.
"In effect, we're allowing the Board of Game to make that decision," Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said during a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal marks the latest chapter in a long history of disagreement between Alaska's administrative branch and the Board of Game over predator control. Under political pressure, Gov. Frank Murkowski's two predecessors both nixed control programs advocated by the board.
Earlier this month, Murkowski announced that he would not support predator control programs that use either state helicopters or personnel, saying he preferred to let local residents do the job. His directives were in direct conflict with the recommendations of the Board of Game, which stated that helicopters and state employees should both be central elements of a proposed predator control plan for the McGrath area.
The proposal floated by Seekins on Wednesday wouldn't allow the Board of Game to order the use of state helicopters or state personnel to enforce predator control, since that power lies with the department and not with the board. But the bill would allow the board to determine whether a predator control program is necessary. It also would prevent the administration from stopping the Board of Game from instituting predator control on its own terms, as long as the program doesn't involve state aircraft or state personnel doing the flying or shooting.
So if the board wanted to allow civilians to shoot wolves from the air or using land-and-shoot techniques, the department would have no authority to stop it, and would in fact be expected to provide administrative support.
"If there's a separation of powers that exists in the administrative code, as I understand it, we don't want to cross that boundary," Seekins said Wednesday. "But at the same time that we make that clear, then, I think the intent would be to try to make sure that the administration did not have the ability to negate the efforts of the Board of Game to carry out their program."
Matt Robus, the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation at Fish and Game, said he felt the legislation could force the department's hand.
"This would seem to allow the board to come out with a very narrow program, in terms of saying you can only do it this way, with these people and there may be times when that conflicts with the administration's desires," he said.
Seekins said the intent of the bill is not to force the department into anything.
"My intent is to work with the chairman of the resources committee as we go along, and members of the department, to try to define that there is no way that the Board of Game can force the department to participate," he said.
But at the same time, Seekins made it clear that he would expect the department to cooperate with the board, making a threat to Fish and Game funding if it didn't.
"If the department doesn't do it, we'll talk about their budget and say 'well, if you're not going to assist in these types of things, maybe you don't need a budget,'" Seekins said.
The proposal came in the form of a committee substitute for Senate Bill 155, which in its original form clarified language to allow the Department of Fish and Game to use land-and-shoot tactics and civilian participants in predator control programs.
Though the amended bill would seem to take authority away from the governor, Seekins contended that it really goes along with his wishes, since Murkowski has said he wants to see locals participate in predator control.
"We're not getting into a position of adversity with the governor here," he said. "We basically are allowing under statute for the Board of Game to make that decision in concert with the governor's stated methods of being able to do so. That's how I see it."
The issue is a complex one even without taking into account the governor's imposition of limitations. While state officials argue that land-and-shoot hunting by civilians is allowed in Alaska and Senate Bill 155 would just clarify language, others contend that land-and-shoot hunting has been definitively banned in Alaska thanks to a pair of public votes in 1996 and 2000.
The possibility of land-and-shoot predator control by private citizens concerned committee member Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who said his constituents are dead-set against it.
"They don't want it to move one inch in the direction of making it more easy to do predator control from the air or even on same-day landing and shooting," he said. "I think what I see coming is the least attractive alternative to my constituents, which is private individuals hunting wolves or doing predator control from the air, or doing predator control by landing and shooting."
French was outvoted by the three Republicans on the committee, who argued that the bill would be a step toward instituting a well-regulated control program.
"We aren't turning anyone with a Super Cub and a shotgun loose to kill wolves," Seekins said.
The committee voted 3-2 along party lines to advance the bill on Wednesday. It is next scheduled for the Senate Resources Committee. The same bill has been introduced by Rep. Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks, in the House, where an identical committee substitute is expected to be introduced in the House Resources Committee.
Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907)463-4893.
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670