A Good Move Against Predators

Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News Miner / May 9, 2003


Alaskans should be pleased with the state Senate's decisive action to move the state closer to implementing sorely needed predator control programs.

While the bill approved by the Senate doesn't specifically mention the urgent problem affecting the moose population of McGrath, its language to remove the state's fish and game commissioner from such decisions will allow the Board of Game's solution to proceed.

Senate Bill 155, by Sen. Ralph Seekins of Fairbanks, would allow Fish and Game employees or private hunters authorized by the Board of Game to conduct land-and-shoot killing of wolves and other predators as part of a predator control program. It also would allow the board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to implement predator control.

The bill does not eliminate the Department of Fish and Game's managers from the process entirely. Its biologists will provide Board of Game members with the science needed to order a predator control program to begin.

Sen. Seekins' bill, which is scheduled for a hearing today in the House Resources Committee, is in response to Gov. Frank Murkowski's decision to not use helicopters or state employees in killing problem wolf populations. Rather, the governor says wolf numbers should be reduced through the efforts of local hunters and trappers, aided by a better effort by state biologists to provide the latest sightings of wolf activity and moose kills.

The governor's plan is not the aggressive, science-based approach he pitched to voters while campaigning for office last year. And it certainly is not in line with the approach called for earlier this year by the game board, which listed the use of state employees shooting from helicopters as its preferred choice for the McGrath problem.

The governor's backtracking was enough to push Sen. Seekins and others in the Legislature to act. Alaskans should be glad they did.

For too many years now the issue of controlling predators--mostly wolves and bears--has been mired in emotion rather than science, which in the case of McGrath says the predator numbers must be reduced to allow for the adequate moose population that people in that part of the state depend on. Then-Gov. Tony Knowles feared a tourism boycott should the state began killing wolves, and now Gov. Murkowski has come up with his own reasons to oppose the most effective means of limiting wolf predation.

The House should pass this bill this session and by sufficient margin, as in the Senate, to override a veto by the governor.

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