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Alaska Predator Control Initiative Effort Falls Short

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 11, 2006

After failing to collect the required number of signatures to get it placed on the November ballot, sponsors of an initiative to stop the state's aerial predator control program said they will give it another shot in 2008.

With only 70 days to come up with the 31,451 signatures of registered voters required to get the initiative on the ballot, sponsors said they simply ran out of time. The group, Alaskans for Wildlife, was able to collect just under 30,000 signatures, according to Juneau author Nick Jans, one of three sponsors of the initiative.

"Right out of the gate we were up against the wall," Jans said. "It was always pie in the sky."

Alaskans for Wildlife will gun for 50,000 signatures to ensure the measure is on the August 2008 primary election ballot, Jans said. Considering that they amassed almost 30,000 signatures in only 70 days, Jans was confident the group would reach that goal.

"We're still getting in booklets now," he said Monday after the deadline passed.

The initiative, if passed by voters, would have required that any wolves killed with the use of aircraft be shot by state employees instead of private pilot-gunner teams, as is now the case. It also would have allowed the killing of wolves only in "biological emergencies."

The state currently issues permits to qualified pilot-gunner teams to shoot wolves from the air or to land and shoot wolves, a practice that Alaska voters have twice voted down through initiatives. The Alaska Legislature, however, skirted the issue by passing a law allowing the state to issue permits to private pilot-gunner teams to shoot wolves in areas designated for "intensive management" by the state Board of Game.

In the last three years, teams have killed more than 400 wolves in five parts of the state identified as areas where wild game is an important food source for residents.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell was glad to hear the news that sponsors came up short of signatures. When it was announced in November, Campbell voiced opposition to the initiative, saying it contained ambiguous language that would lead to costly court battles.

"We have a very full plate and I'm glad that issue is one we're not going to have to be dealing with immediately," the commissioner said.

Proponents of the state's predator control program were glad to hear they won't have to gear up for a political campaign to keep it going.

"To have an initiative like this pass would add more and more limitations to the opportunities people have to use wildlife," said Dick Bishop of Fairbanks, an Alaska Outdoor Council board member. "It would have definitely bogged everything down."

New regulations approved by Alaska voters in 2005 made it more difficult for petitioners to acquire adequate signatures, Jans said. The new law required sponsors to get signatures from at least 7 percent of the registered voting population in a district, making it harder to garner enough signatures in rural Alaska.

Nevertheless, Jans said he agreed with the change.

"As a longtime resident of the Bush I do agree with the premise that Bush residents should have a say," said Jans, who lived in the Northwest Alaska village of Ambler for several years before moving to Juneau.

Alaskans for Wildlife found broad support for the initiative in Kotzebue and Nome, he said.

But Bishop said the new rules were aimed at initiatives like the aerial hunting one pushed by Jans. In past years, the group probably could have collected enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot by hiring people to stand on street corners in Anchorage collecting signatures.

"This really proves that was an important thing to do," Bishop said. "Too many bad ideas were too easily put on ballots in the past. This is one of those bad ideas."

While Jans and fellow initiative sponsors Joel Bennett of Juneau and Tom Walker, who lives near Denali Park, don't feel the state has the biological evidence to back up the state's wolf control program, Campbell begs to differ.

"I hope to sit down with the sponsors of this initiative and make sure they do have a full understanding of how the program is working," the commissioner said. "We absolutely agree on the need for things to be science-based. We think we have very good science."

News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or tmowry@newsminer.com .

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