Panel Kills Bear, Game Bills



Tom Moran / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / May 11, 2004


JUNEAU--The state House Resources committee appears to have shot down a pair of bills aimed at making changes to Alaska's big-game guiding, including a controversial measure by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, that would allow more non-Alaska residents to hunt bears without guides.

Resources Committee Co-chair Beverly Masek, R-Willow, said there is little support in the committee for Seekins' bear bill due to constitutional issues it raises. Masek didn't try to move the bill out in a Sunday committee meeting, and with the legislative session ending today the measure appears for all intent and purposes to be dead.

"Due to late time constraints and people deliberating on the floor, I doubt I'll have time to get back to it at this point in time," Masek said.

Seekins' bill, which passed the Senate last month, would make a number of changes to state law to make it easier to take bears in areas where the state Board of Game has identified them as a cause of declining numbers or productivity of game, such as moose and caribou.

Most significantly, in the current bill people who are issued a state "bear control permit" to take bears in such areas would be allowed to take a nonresident hunting for bears, as long as the permit holder is 21 and has hunted big game for at least two years. That's a major change from present state law, under which people are only allowed to take a nonresident along if they are a close relative or spouse.

That clause raised significant concerns in a Sunday's hearing, as several big-game guides testified that the law changes could jeopardize Alaska's entire big-game guide system. The Alaskan guide system has stood up in court, they said, because guide requirements have been billed as an important way of ensuring hunter safety--so any lessening of those requirements could leave the entire guide system open to court challenges.

"It would take down sheep hunting, goat hunting, and brown bear hunting," said registered guide William Fitzgerald. "It's a slam dunk, as far as the court is concerned."

Wayne Regelin, Deputy of Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, told the panel Sunday it has been deemed "very difficult" to defend the guide laws were the bill to pass. "This whole issue is a policy call for the Legislature," he said. "It'll be an increased risk for the guiding industry."

Panel members expressed hesitance to support the bill--Rep. Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, said using out-of-state hunters for predator control "just defies good common sense"--and Masek ended the meeting before it came to a vote. On Monday, she said she didn't have the votes to move it out of committee and didn't expect them to materialize, meaning the bill would die without going to a vote on the House floor.

"At this time, committee members aren't too happy with the current version of it," she said. "So there's not much support for us to go back into it."

Masek also said the panel will also not be acting on a bill that proposes re-instituting the Big Game Commercial Services Board, a panel that the legislature allowed to dissolve in 1995. The board was in charge of regulating the activities of the state's roughly 550 registered and master guides and 230 transporters.

The bill was introduced by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee based on a state audit that reported that oversight of guiding had lessened since the board was dissolved. In addition to reinstating the board, the bill proposed to toughen up guide regulations in a number of areas.

But Masek said she believes that audit was biased because the auditors only worked with one hunting association. She and House Resources Co-chair Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River, have announced that they will not move the bill out of committee and instead plan to further examine the issue after the session ends.

"I thought it was a pretty biased audit, and being that it's going to affect a lot of people in the state of Alaska, I think it's important that we take our time to get other entities involved and deliberate on (it) during the interim, and hopefully come back with a better bill that we could work on for the next two years," Masek said.

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


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