Predator Debate Resumes
JUNEAU--Land-and-shoot predator control got a step closer to reality Saturday afternoon as the state Senate passed a bill introduced by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, that would make the practice clearly legal. The bill faces a reconsideration vote today; if it passes, it can proceed to the state House.
"This bill allows the people who are responsible for managing game populations to actually manage, and to do it effectively, efficiently and humanely," Seekins said during a Saturday floor session.
Seekins' bill would allow Fish and Game employees or private hunters authorized by the Board of Game to engage in land-and-shoot killing of wolves and other predators as part of a predator control program, such as the one proposed for the McGrath area. It also would allow the board to consider more factors, including both predator and prey numbers, when deciding whether a predator control program is merited.
The bill would also lessen the role of the commissioner of Fish and Game in authorizing and controlling the scope of predator control. Seekins had introduced a bill substitute that would have theoretically allowed the board to implement some forms of predator control without even needing permission from the administration and the governor.
However, according to Matt Robus of the Department of Fish and Game, it appears such an idea won't fly: He said earlier this week that the administration would still have to issue specific permits, or such a program would violate federal law.
Seekins' bill and a companion bill in the House are the latest chapter in the years of controversy surrounding predator control, which has been a thorn in the side of Alaska's governors for a decade. Opponents argue land-and-shoot wolf control has been condemned by the public in popular votes in both 1996 and 2000, and also contend that state-sponsored wolf killing would spark a tourist boycott of Alaska.
There has also been dispute over whether land-and-shoot hunting is legal already, despite the public votes; Seekins argues that it is, and says his bill would just clarify language to reflect that.
Seekins spoke in broad terms in favor of predator control Saturday, arguing that state moose populations have dropped over time as predator numbers have risen.
"Something is killing these animals, and they are not being taken home to feed Alaskan families," he said.
He argued that the statute changes would increase the ability to manage game based on science. "They provide the Game Board and the department with the necessary tools to manage game populations throughout the state," he said.
Sen. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, also spoke in favor of the bill. "We've got to do this for the sake of Alaskans, and for the sake of the Alaska lifestyle and those that depend on it, and for a myriad of other reasons," he said.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau opposes the bill. While Elton said he supports predator control, he noted that the land-and-shoot method had been roundly condemned by voters twice.
"We all understand that twice the public has voted on this one method of predator control," he said. "The voters spoke. They not only spoke, they shouted very loudly of what their desire was on this one method of predator control."
Seekins argued that the bill still fits within the bounds of those votes.
"We did not change the will of the people, we changed the way it's implemented," he said.
Elton also argued that it was a dangerous idea to limit the say of the Fish and Game commissioner. "It limits the latitude of one of the governor's cabinet members," he said. "I think we ought not to do that to this governor or for any future governor."
Seekins argued that the bill would just bring the commissioner's rights regarding predator control in line with his other rights. "No place else in any of our regulations or laws is a commissioner given veto power over the Board of Game or the Board of Fish," he said.
Elton's was the lone voice of dissent Saturday, though several other Democrats who may have opposed the bill were absent from the session. The bill passed 14-1.
Elton filed notice of reconsideration, meaning the bill is subject to a revote today.
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