Governor Finds Predator-Control Bill 'Unacceptable'
JUNEAU--Gov. Frank Murkowski may support predator control, but he said Friday that he doesn't support governor control.
The Murkowski administration has deemed the current draft of Sen. Ralph Seekins' predator control bill "unacceptable" because the bill would largely cut the governor and administration out of the process of designing and implementing a predator control program.
"My opinion ... is that still leaves any action by the board, in the sense of responsibility, the responsibility of the state, and the state is represented by the branches of government," Murkowski said. "So you can't duck the responsibility just because the board may be given an authority. The whole image rests within the state."
Senate Bill 155, which passed the Senate last weekend, would make a number of statute changes that would allow the state Board of Game to implement predator control programs, such as the one the Board of Game has proposed for the McGrath area. It would change language to allow land-and-shoot predator control by civilians, and would expand the bases by which the state can enact programs to include both predator and prey population numbers.
The bill would make further changes that would minimize the participation of the commissioner of Fish and Game, and hence the administration and governor, from the process. Under the current proposal, Fish and Game would supply data about predators and prey. The Board of Game could then use that data to enact a predator-control program without having to get approval from the commissioner, which they have to do now. The board couldn't appropriate funds for a program, but would be able to enact one using authorized private citizens and aircraft.
Seekins, R-Fairbanks, argues that the change would take the politics out of the predator control process: Governors and game boards have differed on the issue for a decade. Recently Murkowski announced he would not support using state personnel or helicopters for wolf control, a decision that ran contrary to the board's recommendations for the McGrath program.
"What we said was, these decisions should be made on the best available science, not on politics," Seekins said Friday before the House Resources Committee, which was hearing the bill. "This decision now is as apolitical as it comes."
The attempt to cut the governor out of the equation entirely was not successful, according to Matt Robus of Fish and Game. In addition to the administration having to appropriate any state funds needed for wolf control, an airborne wolf control program would violate federal law without certain permits issued by the administration.
"The state still will have a significant role, no matter what is done with this statute," he said.
But Robus also said the governor finds the bill "unacceptable" anyway because of the significant reduction of the commissioner's input. Robus offered a compromise: Amended language that would give the commissioner one week to nix a board-approved wolf-control plan.
Robus said that would still give the administration veto power, but prohibit it from just sitting on a proposal as it has in the past. "We think this addresses the 'pocket veto' issue that Senator Seekins has raised," Robus said.
But no one on the House committee offered Robus' amendment on Friday, and the committee voted to move the bill out with the same language passed by the Senate. According to committee chair Rep. Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks, the same amendment came up on the Senate side and didn't win support there either. Fate said he was "ambivalent" about the proposed changes.
"I can understand the position of the administration, and yet past experience has shown us that this particular issue has been so politicized that it's been detrimental to the game populations in the state of Alaska," he said.
Fate said there was still time to work the amendment in during the committee process--the bill now goes to the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee--or on the House floor.
"If the administration is really dedicated to amending this, there is still opportunity to do so," he said.
Murkowski wouldn't say whether he would veto the bill if the House passed it as is. "We'll take a look at it when it comes to us," he said.
Members of the Board of Game have said predator control in McGrath would be impossible to implement without either helicopters or land-and-shoot methods, and the former has already been nixed by the governor.
The bill was kicking up controversy even before the provisions regarding the commissioner were introduced. Friday's resources meeting saw testimony by several wolf control advocates who argued that the program is necessary to protect moose and caribou populations thinned by predators. But several other callers argued that land-and-shoot wolf control is both unnecessary and widely derided by the public, pointing to ballot initiatives in 1996 and 2000 where voters opposed the practice.
"Wolves are not vermin," said Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "The voters of Alaska know that, and they have told you twice that they are not going to support you."
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