Predator Control Bill Passes Senate
JUNEAU--A bill by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, to increase the Board of Game's predator control powers passed the state House Monday. It can now go to Gov. Frank Murkowski's desk for ratification after a revote today.
But the measure still faces an uncertain future: Murkowski, who has the power to veto the bill, has voiced opposition to it. If it were vetoed, it could mean problems for a proposed wolf control program around McGrath.
Murkowski spokesman John Manly said Monday that the governor maintains his disapproval of the bill. "He's said every time it's been brought up that it's not what he's looking for," Manly said. "He said, as it is, it's not acceptable."
Manly wouldn't say on Monday whether the measure might fall victim to the veto pen.
"I guess he'll have to take a look at it and make his final decision on it when he sees it," he said.
Seekins' bill would clarify language to make land-and-shoot predator control clearly legal and would allow predator control programs to be based not just on prey populations but also on harvest and predator numbers. But the sticking point for the executive branch is other language in the bill that allows the Board of Game to enact predator control programs without having to get approval from the administration. Currently, the Commissioner of Fish and Game has to give the final OK for airborne predator control.
Seekins' idea wouldn't quite work: Only the administration can OK the use of state funds, personnel or aircraft for a predator control program, and the commissioner still has to issue federal permits to allow the program to go forward. But Murkowski has still deemed the proposal "unacceptable" because it significantly lessens the executive branch's role in important predator control decisions. A compromise amendment proposed by the administration was not adopted, while one introduced by Seekins has not satisfied the administration, according to Matt Robus of the Department of Fish and Game. Robus said, to his knowledge, the sides had not come to any sort of agreement by the time of Monday's vote.
The disagreement over the provision spilled over onto the House floor on Monday. Rep. Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks, echoed Seekins' arguments that the bill would prevent the administration from nixing a predator control plan for political reasons.
"The Game Board itself will be the authorizing factor in game management as far as predation is concerned," he said. "It makes this depoliticized, which has been one of the problems in predator control in the past."
But Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, argued that it's important the administration be able to weigh in. She noted that wolf control is a touchy issue with political repercussions that need to be considered.
"We've taken a layer of thoughtfulness out of the process here," she said. "I wouldn't take the commissioner out of the loop and I certainly would allow the governor the prerogative, when he sees fit in a much broader perspective, to not allow certain types of land-and-shoot or airborne hunting."
Others spoke to the broader issues of the bill. Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said the measure is needed to protect moose for hunters and noted that there is no threat from predator control to Alaska's wolf numbers.
"There's nothing that we can do to actually damage wolf populations," he said.
On the other side, Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, argued that a pair of citizens' initiatives show that the majority of Alaskans do not support land-and-shoot wolf control by civilians.
"The people of Alaska have spoken, and I think it's right to listen to them," she said.
The House passed the bill by a 26-10 vote, mostly along party lines; that vote is subject to a re-vote today. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month by a 14-1 vote.
According to Robus, were Murkowski to veto the bill it could lead to possible delays for a proposed program in McGrath. That's because current prey numbers in the McGrath unit are above the minimum level set by the state, so the bill's provision to allow the use of harvest or predator numbers would be needed to authorize the program. If the state isn't allowed to base the program on those numbers, the only way to OK an airborne control program for McGrath would be to change the prey objective. That would involve a public process and a decision that would probably come at the next Board of Game meeting in November.
If the Board votes to lower the prey objective, Robus said their decision couldn't become law until around next January at the earliest due to legal matters. If it doesn't get expedited consideration from the Department of Law, it wouldn't become law until next July.
Aerial wolf control realistically can only take place in the winter because snow is needed to be able to track the wolves, Robus said. That being the case, if Murkowski chooses to veto the bill, the program's potential start date would likely be shifted back at least several months, and it could potentially have to be put on hold until the winter of 2004-05.
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