Petition aims to up-end wolf law

Measure would send wolf control back to voters

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Voters may be asked to repeal a law that allows hunters to fly into a remote area and shoot wolves the same day.

A referendum petition to overturn the law will be circulating among Alaskans this summer. If backers gather enough signatures by Aug. 1, the question will go on the November ballot.

Joel Bennett, a former state Board of Game member, is sponsoring the referendum along with Jim Thompson of Juneau and Lowell Thomas Jr. of Anchorage.

They want to overturn Senate Bill 267, sponsored by Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, that allows same-day airborne hunting of wolves.

``It's unethical, it's unsportsmanlike, it's unenforceable and it leads to illegal activity,'' Bennett said.

It's illegal to herd, harass or molest a wild animal with a mechanized vehicle, but those kinds of abuses can occur with same-day airborne hunting, with animals being chased to exhaustion, Bennett said. ``It is a nasty business.''

Kelly said same-day airborne hunting of wolves is needed in parts of Interior Alaska, such as McGrath. Wolves have reduced moose populations that residents depend on for food, he said, and wolves are coming into villages, killing pet dogs, and causing parents to fear for their children's safety.

``I expected this,'' Kelly said of the referendum. ``It's going to be the Defenders of Wildlife against the mothers of McGrath. We'll see who wins.''

Voters banned same-day airborne hunting, except in cases of biological emergency, through a 1996 initiative. But laws passed last year and this year by the Legislature partially overturned that voter initiative.

Last year the Legislature passed a law letting the Fish and Game commissioner, acting at the request of the Game Board, to allow use of aerial wolf control to meet predator-prey population objectives in an area.

This year the Legislature passed a law allowing hunters and trappers to practice same-day airborne hunting of wolves in parts of the state designated as predator control plan implementation areas.

The Board of Game has applied that designation to five areas in Interior Alaska. According to the Department of Fish and Game, the five areas combined are about 34,700 square miles, or less than 6 percent of the state.

Bennett said extending the practice to hunters and trappers is what pushed the referendum-backers to try to repeal the law.

``Almost no one, no responsible hunter would say the use of an aircraft to spot an animal ... and then land immediately thereafter and then shoot it is in any way sportsmanlike or fair chase.''

Kelly said the Legislature extended the practice to hunters and trappers because Gov. Tony Knowles' administration has not allowed department employees to kill wolves in predator control areas.

But Bennett said allowing hunters to use same-day airborne hunting is not an effective method of predator control.

Professional game managers would take out precisely the packs they think are the problem, but hunters will ``just go to the area where it's easiest to get them,'' he said.

Backers of the referendum have 90 days from the time the Legislature adjourned to gather at least 22,716 signatures from Alaska voters for the measure to appear on the November ballot.

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