A noted Alaska wilderness writer wants the state to justify its annual aerial hunt of wolves and grizzly bears with scientific data proving the predators are hurting the moose and caribou population.
Nick Jans, author of "The Grizzly Maze," a book about the bear attack that killed Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend in Katmai National Park, is one of three main sponsors of the petition to keep Alaska's aerial predator control program in check.
Jans, himself a hunter who says he's got enough guns in his Juneau home to alarm police anywhere outside Alaska, said he is not trying to ban the aerial hunts, but to make it a last measure in a proven biological emergency.
"We're not opposing hunters or the Alaska way of life, and we're not opposed to predator control if there is a science-based, demonstrated need," Jans said.
Over the past two winters, 419 wolves have been shot under the program. Grizzly bears were added to some of the program's areas last winter, although bears cannot be shot from the air.
"The fact that this time around grizzlies have been added to the stew pot is going to be really, really offensive to Alaskans," he said.
Jans, along with former Alaska Board of Game member Joel Bennett of Juneau and wilderness writer and photographer Tom Walker, who lives near Denali National Park, have a year to collect the 31,451 signatures needed to certify their proposal as a ballot initiative to amend Alaska's statutes. Lt. Gov. Loren Leman certified their application on Oct. 27, giving them the go-ahead to gather the signatures of voters across Alaska.
If they want their measure included on the November 2006 general election ballot, they must turn in the signatures by the beginning of January's legislative session. Jans said the sponsors have a few thousand dollars to work with and will be using paid gatherers to knock on doors. Jans plans to fly to Kotzebue, Nome and Barrow with petition booklets in hand.
Jans said the group is trying to raise more money, but will not accept donations from animal rights groups such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose work polarizes Alaskans, he said.
"The whole point is, we're not pawns of PETA. We're not shadow representatives of Friends of Animals," he said.
Private hunters permitted through the program are allowed to shoot wolves from the air, or use aircraft to find wolves and bears before landing and shooting them from the ground.
Jans' petition would change the law to forbid shooting or assisting in shooting a wolf, wolverine or grizzly bear if that person has been airborne the same day.
The proposal would allow the state's program to continue, however, if it met four conditions: if it is the only solution to a biological emergency, if a Department of Fish and Game employee does the shooting, if the program is limited to the emergency area and if the program removes only the minimum number of wolves or bears needed to eliminate the emergency.
Although the sponsors are just in the first days of gathering signatures, state Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell has already denounced their petition. In a statement, Campbell said it would "make it extremely costly and very difficult, if not impossible, for the state to actively manage its wildlife."
"It is critical that we have a broad range of management tools at our disposal, especially in those areas of the state where Alaskans rely on fish and game resources to feed our families," Campbell said in his statement.
Jans said the state is wealthy enough to fund the studies for the department. Without the scientific data, he said, the program becomes to susceptible to political pressure.
"A lot of people in the state hunt, and frankly, if people start grousing about the perceived number of wolf tracks, out comes the pressure to get another control area," he said.
The aerial predator control program is limited to just five areas of the state where Fish and Game officials want to boost the number of moose and caribou. It has been condemned by some groups nationwide, but is seen by the state administration as a way to help rural residents who rely on the moose and caribou for food.
The third season has just begun in one of the program areas, and all five areas are expected to open this month when snow covers the ground.
Fish and Game officials say they believe the survival rates of moose and caribou calves have increased since the program started, but the program is too new to confirm that.
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