Wildlife vote goes to ballot

Legislators: Science, not emotion should decide game issues

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

Voters will decide this fall whether they want to limit their right to vote on wildlife issues.

The Senate on Thursday passed House Joint Resolution 56, which puts a constitutional amendment on the fall election ballot to prohibit wildlife questions from being decided through voter initiatives.

The measure has already passed the House, and as a resolution it doesn't require approval by the governor.

It was brought up partly in response to a successful 1996 ballot initiative that banned the practice of flying into a remote area and killing wolves the same day except in biological emergencies.

Supporters of the constitutional change say decisions on wildlife should be based on science, not voters' emotions. They say Outside animal rights groups have too much influence in putting wildlife initiatives on the ballot and getting them passed.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said the wolf control initiative has caused serious problems with predation on moose and caribou populations in parts of the Interior. There are so many wolves that pet dogs are being killed by them and residents fear for their children's safety, he said.

``We have predators running amok in the state of Alaska,'' Kelly said.

Opponents say taking away the voters' right to pass laws through initiative is the wrong approach.

If Outside interests are putting too much money into Alaska's ballot initiative process, then laws changing the amount they can contribute should be changed, not the constitution, said Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat.

``I don't think we have a problem with Alaskans,'' Elton said. ``We have a problem with Outside money.''

Sen. Randy Phillips, an Eagle River Republican, tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to amend the resolution. Instead of removing wildlife questions from the initiative process, he suggested requiring a two-thirds approval of the voters for a wildlife initiative to pass.

He said he couldn't go along with taking away voters' rights to petition their government through the initiative process.

``Keep in mind: This is a double-edged sword,'' Phillips said. ``The sword may come back on those who are advocating for this constitutional prohibition.''

Kelly, however, said the resolution doesn't in itself limit voters' rights to put wildlife initiatives on the ballot. It lets voters decide whether they want to take that right away from themselves.

If the constitutional amendment passes, Rampart Democratic Sen. Georgianna Lincoln said citizens will still be able to influence wildlife decisions through advisory boards and the Board of Game, which is appointed by the Legislature.

The resolution passed the Senate 14-6. Elton was among those voting no.



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