ANCHORAGE - A state judge has ruled that a community hunt reserved for eight Native villages is illegal because it violates the Alaska Constitution.
While acknowledging that traditional, local hunters face unfair competition from non-local hunters who have more money and better equipment, Kenai Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman found that the Ahtna community hunt violates the state constitution because it is reserved for local residents.
Bauman's ruling says that the community hunt violates several provisions of the state constitution, including one that maintains natural resources are "for common use."
The judge also found a problem with the Alaska Board of Game handing over administration of the hunt to Ahtna Inc., the regional Native corporation. Bauman said the board is not authorized to place control of the state's game resources with a private entity. That, he said, violates the constitution's public trust doctrine.
The game board approved the Nelchina caribou community hunt in March 2009.
The eight Ahtna communities are Cantwell, Chistochina, Chitina, Copper Center, Gakona, Gulkana, Mentasta and Tazlina.
The villagers came up with the idea of a community hunt because the previous system was too restrictive, Ken Johns, president and CEO of Ahtna, Inc., said Friday. The rules didn't provide enough hunting opportunities for families and younger people had a hard time becoming eligible to participate, he said.
The community hunt changed that, Johns said.
"We really had a good season last year. A lot of communities and villages did bag moose and caribou. There was a big participation by young people," he said.
Johns said the judge's ruling likely will be appealed.
"Hopefully we can get back with the game board or another court to resolve this thing," Johns said. "I am going to plead with the governor to step in and help us out."
The Nelchina caribou hunt on 23,000 square miles north-northeast of Anchorage is one of the most popular in the state because it is accessible by road.
The community hunt approved by the game board allowed the eight Ahtna villages 300 caribou and about 100 moose. In the 2009 hunt, 93 moose and 97 caribou were harvested, according to the administrator's final report.
Kasilof resident Kenneth Manning and the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest sportsmen's organization with about 10,000 members, filed the legal challenge to stop the community hunt.
"There are so many things wrong with this. One is the fact that you can't take a public resource and go ahead and allocate specific numbers to specific users," said Rod Arno, the Alaska Outdoor Council's executive director.
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