A recent News-Miner editorial supporting Governor Palin's "Active Management / Airborne Shooting" bill said that "HB 256 does not give the state additional powers or clear the way for additional predator control programs."
That's an interesting take on a bill that for the first time ever in statute would legalize the aerial shooting of grizzly bears by the public. Yes, it's true that this bill does not give additional powers to the state; right now the Board of Game has the authority to institute the aerial shooting of grizzly bears as part of a control program. The reason such a thing is included in this bill, however, is expressly to "clear the way" for the Board to implement such a program in future without fear of any lawsuits.
Our predator control programs today stem from mandates included in our Intensive Management law that was passed in 1994. Those pushing the bill back then wanted to ensure that predator control would always take place if certain game populations reached a defined lower level or hunting harvests were not high enough. But the thinking among legislators was that the politically appointed Board of Game should not be given free reign to impose controversial predator control programs; rather there should be a set of biological circumstances that defined if control programs were justified and if they had a reasonable chance of succeeding.
Basically, the legislature tied "science" to intensive management law. This somewhat lengthy language has allowed various groups over the years to sue the state regarding our predator control programs. Rarely have these suits been successful.
The News-Miner quoted Assistant Attorney General Kevin Saxby as saying: "If your enemy has written a book, you can always find something in there to challenge him with." So what this bill amending IM law does is to take out nearly every single "constrictive definition" within current statutes that ties predator control to science and efficacy.
Essentially, it turns a "book" into a few paragraphs in order to make our predator control programs "legally defensible."
Thus the News-Miner opinion that "simpler is better."
The commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the director of the Wildlife Conservation Division out of Juneau have given full support to this bill in its entirety.
But that support was recently contradicted by interior Alaska Fish and Game staff in a written position on a proposal before the Board of Game that sought to allow the taking of grizzly bears by traps, snares, and same-day-airborne shooting, as well as the sale of tanned grizzly bear hides, in a brown bear predator control area in the eastern Interior.
Here is the verbatim Fish and Game position on this proposal: "The Department does not support the taking of any grizzly bear by trapping, snaring, or same-day airborne, or the sale of tanned grizzly bear hides, even in brown bear predator control areas."
This bill was always a Catch-22 for the hunting organization that I co-chair. We wanted to prevent the lawsuits that cost our state so much time and money, but we didn't want to give blanket authority to all future Boards of Game to possibly impose radical predator control programs that weren't grounded in any kind of science and/or efficacy.
And like the interior Alaska ADF&G staff, we do not support the same-day-airborne shooting of grizzly bears, even in bear control areas, that this bill would put it statute and legitimize for all time.
HB 256 passed the House and is currently before the Alaska Senate, where in the waning days of the legislative session it is being pushed hard by supporters.
I urge all hunters to take a closer look at this bill and to oppose it as written. Simpler isn't always better. If it were, I'd swap out the 110-year old Swedish Mauser that puts black bear meat on my table for a microblade spear.
Mark Richards is co-chair of Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, www.alaskabackcountryhunters.org.