Bear-Hunting Bill will Apparently Die in Committee

Associated Press / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / May 11, 2004

JUNEAU (AP) -- A controversial bear-hunting bill apparently won't make it out of the state House Resources committee this legislative session.

The measure would allow more non-Alaska residents to hunt bears without guides. It also would make it easier to hunt bears in areas where they've been identified as the cause of declining numbers of game, such as moose and caribou.

Resources Committee Co-chair Beverly Masek, R-Willow, said there was little support in the committee for the bill. With the legislative session scheduled to end Tuesday, she said there didn't appear to be time to move it forward.

"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.

The bill, authored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, has already passed the Senate.

It would allow people issued a state "bear control permit" 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.

Current law only allows nonresidents to go along if they are a close relative or spouse.

Several big-game guides testified Sunday that the law changes could jeopardize Alaska's entire big-game guide system and open it to legal 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 would be "very difficult" to defend the guide laws if the bill passed.

"This whole issue is a policy call for the Legislature," he said. "It'll be an increased risk for the guiding industry."

Masek also said the panel will not act on a bill that proposes re-instituting the Big Game Commercial Services Board, a panel that the Legislature dissolved 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.

But Masek said she believes the 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.

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