Ballot Measure No. 2, which will go before voters during the Aug. 26 primary election, asks Alaskans to decide the future use of aircrafts in the state's predator control program
Entitled "An Act Prohibiting the Shooting of Wolves and Grizzly Bears with the Use of Aircraft," the measure would prohibit hunters and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from shooting wolves and bears either from the air or once a plane has landed, unless the fish and game commissioner has scientific proof that a "biological emergency" exists.
Supporters of the measure point to the state's history of voter approval for similar initiatives in 1996 and 2000, only to have them overturned by the Legislature. Also, they say, the aerial hunting goes against sportsmen ethics.
Those opposing the ballot measure, including former fish and game officials, say aerial hunting is a necessary predator-control device designed to increase moose and caribou numbers - animals rural Alaskans rely on for food.
Wayne Regelin, former deputy commissioner of the ADF&G, said if the ballot measure passes it means the end of a program, and along with it a "very important wildlife management tool that is used sparingly" in Alaska.
Also, Regelin predicts the program would be tied up in lawsuits over what constitutes a biological emergency.
The measure defines a biological emergency as one in which a prey population will irreversibly decline unless aircraft are used to reduce the number of wolves and bears.
"What is an irreversible decline for crying out loud? Do they have to go extinct?" he said. "That will likely be left up to a judge to decide."
Richard Bishop, a retired Fish and Game biologist and president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, wrote in a Fairbanks Daily News Miner commentary, "Ballot Measure 2: The devil is in the details" published Aug. 3, that this ballot initiative is being disguised as an environmental and ethical hunting crisis.
"Like most wildlife-related initiatives in Alaska that have proposed restrictions on huntingm trapping or predator management methods, this is based on opinion. It is being falsely marketed as some kind of environmental crisis or a violation of hunting ethics. The aerial shooting Measure 2 would condemn to courtsis not 'hunting'. Contrary to sensationalized campaign slogans, it does not create an environmantal crises, either."
Regelin added that the goal of the state's predator control program is to sustain healthy caribou and moose populations and to maintain healthy wolf and bear populations.
Nick Jans, co-sponsor of Ballot Measure No. 2, expects voters will once again approve a ban on aerial hunting.
"This is an issue that has been addressed and addressed again," he said. "It is a clear matter. The will of the people has already been known and we are just reasserting it here. We are both puzzled and enraged that we are back at this point again."
Voters in 1996 and 2000 approved similar bans on aerial hunting, only to have them overturned by the Legislature.
Assuming the measure is approved again, Jans said if the Legislature overturns it again, it would make it clear that lawmakers are responding to special interest groups and not the will of the people.
Jans contends wildlife management decisions in Alaska are being made by a small group of sport hunters and professional hunting guides who are cozy with game board members.
"It is obvious to us that the predator control program, as it currently exists, is not a matter of scientific management, but policy that is being basically stuffed down the people of Alaska's throats by a well-connected minority," he said.
Jans said what is at work is a distorted view, supported by the sports hunters and not the subsistence users, who rely of the wildlife for food.
"In all areas where the state is currently using predator control the number of sport hunters is far greater than the number of subsistence hunters," he said. "To claim the guys flying into an area in their $40,000 planes and riding around in $30,000 jet boats are relying on the moose or caribou they kill for food is hysterical."
The initiative is not intended to be a tar pit of litigation, but rather a means to apply scientific game management, Jans said.
"We are Alaskans. We're hunters. We're pro subsistence and pro trapping. I've had a hunting license in Alaska for more than 30 years," he said. "We aren't opposed to hunting. What we are opposed to is this special interest ideology, supporting a heavy-handed predator control program that favors sports hunters, and an intensive management policy designed to get maximum moose and caribou numbers, which are unrealistically high, from a game management area, by making wolves and bears the fall guys."
Reach the reporter at <email@example.com>