Wildlife Bill Puts Consumption on Top

Tom Moran / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 13, 2004

JUNEAU--Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, has introduced a bill that would define the wildlife policy of the state to emphasize the right to individual consumption of state fish and game over other uses, such as viewing or commercial harvest.

"It's a very important individual right, especially in terms of being able to use commonly owned resources to feed Alaska families," Seekins said. "And so I think that just needs to be on the mind of the people who are involved in that allocation process."
The bill would place a new section in state statute governing the Department of Fish and Game. The section would read, in its entirety: "It is the policy of the state that the consumptive use of wild fish and game resources by individual Alaska residents is a very important and fundamental individual right when considering the management and allocation of those resources."
  Seekins said his intent in introducing the measure is to focus state wildlife management on individual hunting and fishing. While there have not been many conflicts between those and other wildlife uses, Seekins said he still wants to spell out what he believes the state's direction should be when they do arise.

"I think that there have been some conflicts of that in the past. There are now some conflicts as to what could happen in the future," he said. "So I think we just need to make it very clear, very plain."

Karen Deatherage, Alaska representative of the wildlife protection group Defenders of Wildlife, said she was "mystified" by the bill, noting that conflicts between consumptive and other uses of wildlife have been few and far between.

"The other values of wildlife having priority over hunting and trapping are minimal," she said.

Deatherage objected to the principle of the bill, noting that viewing or scientific study are also important uses of wildlife--and that some Alaskans' belief in the intrinsic value of wildlife, regardless of its use by humans, needs to be considered as well. She questioned whether a bill that would allocate wildlife resources to a specific group of Alaskans would even be constitutional.

"In Alaska, we have 650-odd thousand people, of whom 90,000 have a hunting license," she said. "It would restrict the management of our wildlife to a single interest group and our constitution doesn't allow for that."

Matt Robus of Fish and Game said the department hasn't taken a position on the bill. He said his only personal concern is that such a bill could make it harder for Fish and Game to do its job.

"If you make hunting and fishing a fundamental right, it may interfere with the state's ability to regulate hunting and trapping, and so forth," he said.

Another concern brought up by Deatherage was the bill's effect on subsistence regulations, which offer a preference to subsistence hunters and fishers.

"I think this would make it even harder to have a preference, or to even look at following what subsistence laws we do have in this state for local residents in rural areas," she said.

Robus said he wasn't sure what, if any, effect the bill might have on subsistence laws.

"I guess that's the type of legal question that's out there," he said.

Seekins said he didn't intend for his bill to have any bearing on subsistence, only to increase emphasis on personal consumptive use.

"We understand now that our highest priority is for subsistence," he said. "We also need to take a look at a very high priority in the allocation process, to be able to allow Alaskans to use that resource to feed families."

Seekins is a strong proponent of game management for consumption. Last session, he sponsored the bill that led to aerial wolf control to increase game populations and last week he introduced a bill that would remove many restrictions on hunting bears in areas where predator control is deemed appropriate.
Seekins' bill, which he introduced on Wednesday, has been referred to the Senate Resources and Judiciary committees.

Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at tmoran@newsminer.com or (907) 463-4893 --

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