Wolf Song of Alaska News

Ballot Measure 2: The Devil is in the Details

Community Perspective / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / August 3, 2008

Ballot Measure 2, or 05HUNT on the Division of Elections Web site, will be on the Aug. 26 primary election ballot. It's entitled "An Act Prohibiting the Shooting of Wolves and Grizzly Bears with the Use of Aircraft."

Measure 2 would modify state law (AS 16.05.783) by limiting the aerial shooting of wolves or grizzly bears to a situation called a "biological emergency." Based on what is referred to as "adequate data," the following language would become law:

A "biological emergency means a condition where a wolf or grizzly bear population in a specific geographic area is depleting a prey population to a point that if not corrected will cause an irreversible decline in the prey population such that it is not likely to recover without wolf or grizzly bear control."

Who decides what is "adequate data"? Probably a judge. Who decides whether the prey population is in an "irreversible decline"? Probably a judge. What is an "irreversible decline"? Is it only a decline that would result in the extirpation of a prey population? Who will decide? Probably a judge.

If factors other than wolves or grizzly bears, such as bad winters, disease, etc., deplete a prey population, can aerial shooting be used to facilitate recovery? It appears not.

Could aerial shooting be used to eliminate a wolf or bear that endangers people or property? It appears not.

Could aerial shooting be used to constrain or prevent the spread of disease in wolves or bears? It appears not. Aerial shooting might have been helpful in preventing the lice infestation of Kenai wolves from spreading to the Interior - which it has.

Measure 2 would also limit aerial shooting to Fish and Game personnel, which would raise costs and limit coverage by restricting the number of people who could participate.

If Measure 2 passes, any proposed predator management program in Alaska incorporating aerial shooting is likely to be buried in court. Predator management is already limited to state and private land because current federal policy precludes it on federal land - 63 percent of Alaska. Ironically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using aerial shooting to deal with predation by wolves in the Lower 48.

A few years ago, Rollin Sparrowe, a nationally prominent wildlife biologist, commented that ballot initiatives were a good avenue to establish public policy only if the public was well informed, thoughtful and objective. He also noted that those conditions seldom prevail with respect to initiatives.

To which I would add: The deepest pockets buy the most 30-second sound bites; no requirement for "truth in advertising."

Most wildlife-related initiatives in Alaska that have proposed restrictions on hunting, trapping or predator management methods are based on opinion. They are falsely marketed as some kind of environmental crisis or a violation of hunting ethics. The aerial shooting Measure 2 would condemn to courts is not "hunting." Contrary to sensationalized campaign slogans, it does not create environmental crises, either. Predator control is a management tool that can help the state meet its constitutional mandates of sustained yield and benefits to Alaskans.

Food on the table is the issue. Healthy, "solar powered," locally grown wild meat benefits Alaskans and helps reduce the use of non-renewable energy to supply Alaskans with "store-bought" food.

If you want to be better informed, go to these links on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Web site: www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wolf.control and www.wildlife.alaska.gov/management/control/05hunt.pdf.

I'm voting "no" on Measure 2.
Richard Bishop, a retired Department of Fish and Game biologist, is president of the Alaska Outdoor Council.

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