HB 348 seems an innocuous little bill -- several lines that merely redefine Alaska's wildlife as an "asset." The Department of Law has argued that it and related bills, SB 176/HB 256, simply clarify existing statutes governing wildlife management.
However, the intent of these bills is far-ranging, and hardly innocuous. These pieces of stealth legislation are designed to subvert the right of Alaska's people to vote in this August election on the issue of shooting wolves and bears from private aircraft, and to prevent all future ballot initiatives regarding wildlife management. All three bills are backed by well-connected special interest groups, notably the Alaska Outdoor Council -- which receives heavy financial backing from Outside organizations such as the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association.
It is not the viewpoint behind these bills you should resent -- it's the disingenuous attempt to slip them past the people without openly acknowledging the clear intent: to silence Alaska's voters.
In the case of HB 348, the designation of Alaska's wildlife as an "asset" is meant to put decisions regarding wildlife management solely in the hands of a Legislature that has routinely flouted the wishes of its constituents. In a 1996 ballot initiative, 36 of Alaska's 40 districts rejected aerial predator control. In 2000, 29 of 40 districts did the same. Yet both times, the Legislature overturned that mandate.
In 2000, 63 percent of Alaskans rejected a referendum that would have made unconstitutional all wildlife ballot initiatives. Now, 56,000 Alaska voters are once again demanding that their voices be heard on the issue of aerial predator control, in a ballot measure that has already been certified.
These were and are Alaskans speaking out, not Outsiders. And contrary to Alaska Outdoor Council rhetoric, thousands of rural Alaskans voted against it -- people who truly do depend on subsistence. Shishmaref, Klawock, Sleetmute, Kivalina, Pedro Bay, Shageluk, Buckland, Anaktuvuk Pass, White Mountain, Koyuk, Chignik Lagoon, New Stuyahok, Kotzebue, and more -- many Native Bush communities voted against aerial predator control in 2000. To say that these people don't understand the nature of subsistence or wolves is an insult to Native traditions and cultures.
Likewise, thousands of active non-Native hunters, including myself, feel insulted when we're told by the Board of Game or the Alaska Outdoor Council that we just don't understand the issue. Many of us have far more experience and knowledge regarding wolves than those who claim we know so little.
In any case, the opposition's rhetoric distorts the issue. Aerial predator control is not a matter of science, but of ballot-box policy, directed by political appointees. It is the constitutional right of Alaska's people to decide how this management tool will be wielded. The wildlife of Alaska belongs to us all, not to just a well-connected few who exert influence behind closed doors, contrary to the democratic process.
The Alaska Outdoor Council proudly claims roughly 3,000 paying members. Since when do the desires of 3,000 trump those of 56,000-plus?
The answer's simple: when a special interest group (which includes Gov. Palin, who requested the introduction of SB 176/HB 256, and is herself an Alaska Outdoor Council member) attempts to exert its will, and the majority stand by and allow their rights to be stolen.
You don't have to agree with me on the issue of airborne predator control to agree that we do indeed live in a democratic society, where the majority rules. Alaska's citizens have a constitutional right to vote on matters of wildlife management policy, and to raise a ballot initiative when our collective will is ignored by those sworn to represent us.
The issue of aerial wolf and bear shooting pales in comparison to the real issue at stake: the democratic process. We must insist that the Legislature and Gov. Palin protect and nurture that process.
Alaskans, raise your voices and call for the striking down of HB 348 and SB 176/HB 256, not because of your convictions regarding aerial predator control, but because of your convictions in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Nick Jans is with Alaskans for Wildlife and is the author of several books about Alaska.