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Settle Alaska's Wildlife Management Policy in the Ballot Box

Vic Van Ballenberghe / Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / November 20, 2005

Wayne Heimer, as usual, resorted to character assassination, distorted facts, and scare tactics in his latest opinion piece against the forthcoming predator control ballot initiative (News-Miner, Nov. 13). As a former object of his politics of personal destruction, I know full well his motives and tactics. Apparently he is scared to death that the electorate in Alaska will vote to reaffirm (for the third time since 1996) its disapproval of aerial wolf shooting by private pilots.

Despite lauding "constitutional government," Mr. Heimer is desperately trying to prevent the initiative's sponsors from gathering enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot. He apparently has forgotten that in 2000, Alaska's voters soundly defeated a ballot measure to prohibit wildlife initiatives. The majority of voters here would not stand for efforts to deprive them of their right to vote on important wildlife-policy issues.

Instead of dealing with relevant issues, Mr. Heimer chose to dwell on the initiative's sponsors. What does it matter if one is a lawyer and filmmaker, another a wildlife photographer, a third the writer of a book on Timothy Treadwell? He doesn't mention that all three are hunters with decades of experience in wildlife issues.

I served on the Board of Game twice with Joel Bennett (a sponsor) who Mr. Heimer inaccurately labeled as a "passionate opponent of classic wildlife management." During this time, I saw Mr. Bennett vote for proposals enhancing consumptive uses of wildlife hundreds of times. These included wolf-control programs. Although he was not present at most of these meetings, Mr. Heimer would have us ignore this record and accept his false claim as fact.

Mr. Heimer wants to convince readers that the sponsors are way too close to non-consumptive users to be trusted with issues like predator control. He would deprive the majority of Alaskans who view wildlife as more than just targets for hunters of their right to advocate an important policy change.

Mr. Heimer uses buzzword phrases like "ballot box biology" to falsely claim that if the initiative passes, Alaskans will no longer be able to depend on game for food. In reality, the initiative is "ballot box policy." What better way to settle controversial policy issues than with a public vote? Constitutional government provides avenues for citizens to vote whenever entities like the Board of Game adopt extremist policies well out of mainstream thought.

As a former professional wildlife biologist, Mr. Heimer should be more concerned with recent Board of Game actions that ignore sound science than with personal attacks. Last January, 123 biologists across North America signed a letter of concern to Gov. Frank Murkowski urging him to return to sound science standards for predator control. In July, the American Society of Mammalogists, a worldwide organization of biologists, sent a similar letter. Many wildlife biologists now recognize that the current programs lack sound science for justifying, implementing, monitoring and evaluating control programs. That is one reason why the public deserves to vote once again on this controversial issue. I urge you to prevent Mr. Heimer from blocking our right to cast that vote.

Vic Van Ballenberghe lives in Anchorage. He is a former member of the Alaska Board of Game.

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