ANCHORAGE -- A ballot initiative that would end the state's predator control program as now conducted was failing at the polls Tuesday.
With 70 percent of the votes counted, the measure was lagging with more than 55 percent of voters saying no.
Ballot Measure 2 would prohibit the shooting of wolves and bears either from the air or once a plane has landed, unless the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game finds that a "biological emergency" exists and has adequate scientific proof.
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.
It also would require state employees to conduct predator control. Now, private citizens are permitted to kill the animals.
The initiative also would allow only the minimum number of predators to be removed to end the emergency.
Nick Jans, one of the initiative sponsors, said it was tough going up against the Palin administration, Fish and Game, and members of the Alaska Outdoor Council. A strong Republican turnout also may have hurt their side, he said.
"I think that basically we got dragged under a train," Jans said.
He also said the description of the ballot measure prepared by the lieutenant governor's office was confusing to voters.
"It reads poorly and I don't think that is a mistake. It was intentional," he said.
The state's predator control program, begun in McGrath in 2003 and now operating in five areas of Alaska, is designed to help boost moose and caribou numbers where residents say game has become too scarce.
Under the program, more than 800 wolves have been killed and a far smaller number of bears.
Supporters of the state's predator control program say it is doing some good, bringing much-needed relief to rural residents at a time when the cost of living in Bush Alaska is skyrocketing with the prices for food and fuel.
Opponents say the program, approved by the state Board of Game, thwarts the will of the people, who have twice voted to undo similar programs where aircraft were used to track and kill predators.
Opponents also say the program caters to big game hunters and guides from urban areas, mostly Anchorage and Fairbanks, by manipulating game populations unnecessarily.
Cliff Judkins, board game chairman, said he can understand why people don't much like predator control but wants Alaskans to know it is done as a last resort.
"There is just no other way to reduce the wolves," he said.
Eddie Grasser, president of the Alaska chapter of Safari Club International, the group that provided most of the money to fight the measure, said the vote shows that most Alaskans support hunting as a vital part of wildlife management.
"Our side believes we need these types of management tools available," Grasser said.
No one needs moose and caribou meat so much that wolves and bears need to be shot from the air, said Breffny Conley, 48, of Chugiak, as he prepared to vote.
"I think it is morally wrong. That is a sport for cowards," he said. "God gives us things on earth that you can work for or steal. That's stealing."
Before Alaska statehood in 1959, shooting wolves from airplanes was common. Aerial sport hunting was banned in 1972 but the law allowed aerial shooting for predator control.
In 1996 and 2000, voters rejected using aircraft to help track and kill wolves. The legislature overturned the measures.
Lin Halterman, an antique appraiser in Chugiak, said she voted in favor of the initiative because she thinks when it comes to predator control the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has too much power.
"The trouble with too much control is too much control," she said.
John Orr, 64, of Anchorage, said he voted no on all four ballot initiatives because he doesn't think voters should have to decide such issues. That's what legislators are for, he said.
"They are letting us down on the job," he said.
However, voting no on Ballot Measure 2 was easy, he said.
"There is no shortage of wolves and bears," Orr said.
His wife, Maria, said she also voted no, pointing to the motorist who last Friday hit a large grizzly bear as it crossed one of the city's busiest highways.
"It showed me they are way too close in town. This is our natural habitat," she said. "We can share the land without them overrunning us."