As this legislative session ends, the different fates of two bills that affect citizens' ability to have a say on wildlife issues are worth noting.
First, Governor Palin introduced HB 256/SB 176, which had the potential to effectively remove the aerial gunning ballot initiative set for a vote this August. Second, Rep. Wes Keller introduced HB 348, which he acknowledged was designed to block the ability of citizens to vote on any future wildlife ballot initiatives. After passing the House, the Governor's bill failed in the Senate, ensuring that the aerial gunning ballot initiative will be the subject of a vote in August. But Rep. Keller's bill found last minute success with a legislative maneuver whereby HB 348's companion bill, SB 306, was passed by the Senate and then quickly agreed to, in the same format, by the House. The bill attempts to cut Alaska's citizens out of all future decision making when it comes to important wildlife issues within the state, leaving wildlife policy in the hands of a very small number of people representing a very small minority of the state's broader wildlife interests.
Governor Palin campaigned on a theme of open government responsive to the people of Alaska. But she essentially thumbed her nose at Alaska's electorate when she introduced a bill that she knew ran contrary to the will of thousands of Alaska voters. More than 56,000 Alaskans signed a petition requesting that the issue of aerial wolf gunning be presented to the voters in August. Governor Palin and her spokespeople were deliberately cagey when asked if the intent of the bill was to remove the initiative from the ballot, but it is a fair assumption that this was the plan, given the nature of the bill's supporters within the legislature and the special interest community. Luckily the Senate bill moved slowly and ultimately failed as public outcry rose and a skeptical Senate started to take a harder look at the bill's likely effect, in spite of intense pressure from the Governor in the final days of the session to remove the bill from the control of the Senate Judiciary Committee and tag the bill on to another piece of legislation.
Rep. Wes Keller has long been beholden to the Alaska Outdoor Council and other special interests and is a long time opponent of public involvement in state wildlife decisions. No one was surprised when he introduced his bill, but despite opposition from the public, including rural and Native Alaskans and their representatives in the legislature, SB 306 passed. This is ironic when one considers that the state's controversial predator programs are often disingenuously billed as primarily benefiting rural and Native Alaskans. Yet again, the state legislature is trying to circumvent the will of the people, proving that the ultimate motivation for those who voted in favor of this legislation is disenfranchisement.
Alaska's wildlife belongs to all Alaskans. Only 15% percent of Alaskans hunt, yet our wildlife is managed seemingly for the exclusive benefit of that community. The wishes and needs of those who simply like to watch wildlife as they camp, fish, hike, raft, or otherwise enjoy Alaska's natural wonders, place a distant second. The ballot box is one venue where the playing field is equal and ordinary citizens, whose voices fall on the deaf ears of state legislators beholden to special interests, can make their wishes known. Twice Alaskans have passed bans and restrictions on the use of airplanes to shoot wolves and twice the legislature has overturned their will. During this session the Governor and the legislature tried to silence the peoples' voices once and for all. The August aerial gunning ballot initiative survives, yet the shadow of a state-wide gag still looms.
For More Information Please Contact:
Tom Banks, 907-276-9410
Defenders of Wildlife
333 W. 4th Ave. Suite 302,
Anchorage AK 99501