Anchorage, Alaska - Alaska residents went to the polls Tuesday to vote on a ballot initiative that, if passed, would end the state's predator control program as conducted now.
If approved, 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.
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.
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.