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
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
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
"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 email@example.com or (907) 463-4893 --
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