In today's increasingly urbanized cultures, the traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping are constantly threatened by a number of factors. Among the most pressing factors are the loss or degradation of habitat, lack of proven predatory/prey management programs, anti-hunting, fishing and trapping campaigns by national organizations, and decreasing support for the North American Conservation Model.
In light of the need to protect the heritage of Alaskans who hunt, fish and trap, I have begun efforts to establish a Sportsmen's Caucus in the Alaska Legislature.
Why a caucus? And what do we expect to accomplish through this method?
It is our hope that by establishing a Sportsmen's Caucus, we will be more successful in representing the interests of the thousands of Alaskans who hunt, fish and trap, through a renewed emphasis on conservation and stewardship. This includes, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics for 2006, nearly 184,000 sport fishermen, 90,700 hunters, and 29,500 trappers. In addition, 315,500 nonresident sport fishing licenses were issued in 2006, along with 15,600 nonresident hunting licenses.
A caucus in a legislative body is a time-honored means of focusing attention on common causes, and identifying and implementing solutions to problems in areas of mutual concern.
In addition to the normal majority and minority caucuses in the House and Senate, which are the key to the organization and control of the Legislature, a number of other caucuses have existed for many years. Perhaps the most well-known is the "Anchorage Caucus," a bipartisan group from both houses that advocates for Anchorage-area issues. Rural legislators have a similar group, known as the "Bush Caucus." Other caucuses include the "Interior Delegation," the "Children's Caucus," and the "Health Caucus."
Each caucus works in a similar fashion. That is, members of the Legislature recognize there is a need for attention to be paid to a particular problem or set of issues. They organize with like-minded colleagues and meet, usually on a periodic basis, to discuss solutions and strategies for passing legislation. Often, a meeting will be held at lunch time and will feature a guest speaker, such as a mayor or other public official, who is also working on the problem.
By working together in a caucus on specific issues, members of the Legislature can gather information and share solutions in a more effective way. Legislative staffers who also attend and take direction on the issue are able to help move the process forward.
Nationally, Alaska is one of only 17 states at this time without a sportsmen's caucus, which is interesting just because the traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping are so important to our citizens.
Ideally, an Alaska State Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus would be set up under the guidelines available from the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus and would become part of the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses. The CSC initiated the NASC in December of 2004 and since then 33 states have joined.
In discussions with the CSC, we have determined that, to be most effective, the caucus would be bipartisan and would agree to set aside some issues unique to Alaska, such as subsistence. This would allow its primary focus to be on supporting the traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping and related management of our fish and game resources to provide reasonable opportunities for Alaskans to continue those traditions.
It is important to note that the CSC is the largest bi-partisan caucus in the Congress with more than 300 members. Clearly, hunting and fishing are important outdoor activities enjoyed by their constituents nationwide. I believe the significance of fishing and hunting to Alaskans will result in a similar situation here among our own 60 legislators.
You can find out more about this unique organization by logging into their Web site at: www.statesportsmenslink.org.
If you are a hunter, fisher or trapper, and continued, reasonable access to fish and game is important to you and your family, you might want to consider contacting your legislators and encouraging them to get involved with the Sportsmen's Caucus.
* Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, is speaker of the state House of Representatives.