A bill to re-establish a state board regulating big-game hunting is winding its way to the Alaska House floor.
Frustrated by the delay in reinstituting the board, which existed until 1995, several big-game guides told legislators Wednesday their industry is struggling from a lack of order and accountability.
Paul Johnson, an Elfin Cove big-game guide for 30 years, told legislators the effort to get the board running again has dragged on for so many years that his hair has turned gray in the interim.
"It's time to move forward," Johnson said.
Other hunting guides testified to the House Resources Committee about a lack of enforcement, dwindling resources and over-competition in Alaska's big-game hunting industry, which generates about $100 million for the state economy, according to state figures.
One big-game hunting guide objected to the bill, saying he thought it was an infringement on hunters.
"I see this as an enforcement bill only," said Chuck Wheeler, of Nome, who testified by phone.
The previous big-game board expired in 1994 due to a statutory sunset provision but it was extended by the Alaska Legislature until 1995. An effort to extend the board until 1998 died in legislative committee.
A 2003 proposal to reestablish the big-game board was approved by the Senate but voted down by the House in the last session. Several years before, it was approved by the House but rejected by the Senate.
Currently, big-game guide licensing is managed by the state Division of Occupational Licensing.
Robert Fithian, executive director of the Alaska Professional Hunters Association in Anchorage, said the current management scheme doesn't restrict the number of guides who can be licensed in a specific area on state or private land.
"There's too much competition," he said.
Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, who is sponsoring House Bill 76 to reestablish the board, said it won't solve all the woes in the big-game hunting industry.
"It's baby steps," he told House Resource Committee on Wednesday.
The bill has the support of Gov. Murkowski and the departments of Fish and Game and Public Safety, as well as the state Division of Occupational Licensing.
The committee passed the bill to the House Finance Committee on Wednesday - its last stop before the House floor.
The bill proposes a board with seven members, including two licensed guide-outfitters, two licensed transporters, a member of the Board of Game not involved in big-game hunting or transportation, a member who represents private landowners and a member of the public.
The board would operate at an annual cost of $30,000, comprising travel fees for meetings. The cost of running the board will be fully absorbed by big-game hunting receipts.
"It doesn't cost the state any money," said Sarah Gilbertson, legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Game.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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