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Petitioners seek end to aerial hunt

If approved, it will be the third time wolf shooting ban will go before voters

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two Juneau residents and a former big game guide from Denali Park petitioned the state this week to allow Alaska voters to decide whether to ban aerial shooting of wolves and grizzly bears in the 2006 general election.

Aerial wolf killing in Alaska is an injustice to responsible hunting and has sullied the state's reputation, said Joel Bennett, a Juneau resident and former state Game Board member.

Bennett filed a ballot initiative petition at the lieutenant governor's office late Tuesday.

If the ballot measure is approved by the state and obtains the required signatures, it will be the third time the issue has gone to Alaska voters since 1996.

Alaskans voted in 1996 and 2000 to ban the practice but the state Legislature overturned those bans in 1999 and 2002, Bennett said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game claims its aerial predator control program for wolves and grizzlies is a valid way to boost low moose and caribou populations in the Interior.

The petition - cosponsored by Juneau author and former teacher Nick Jans and former Interior hunting guide Tom Walker - would restrict wolf and grizzly predator control to "biological emergencies" and eliminate the Fish and Game permit program that allows state residents to shoot the animals.

"We think if at all, (Fish and Game) personnel should do it," Bennett said, citing the illegal shooting of wolves by two permit holders in March 2004.

"There have been many times in Alaska when (aerial hunting) has been abused," Bennett said.

Fish and Game wildlife conservation director Matt Robus noted that his department enthusiastically supported the prosecution of the two hunters.

On the other hand, Robus said, it is still too early to measure the success of the predator program. That's one reason why it should continue - so the state can learn whether it's successful, he said.

There is some preliminary evidence that calf survival rates have improved, he said.

Because of a bill passed by the Alaska Legislature this year asking the Fish and Game commissioner to take a stronger role in promoting hunting and fishing in Alaska, the department may take a stance on the proposed ballot initiative, Robus said.

"It's too early to tell" whether Fish and Game will support or oppose the initiative, Robus said.

Aerial hunting of wolves and bears has been controversial in Alaska and the Lower 48, resulting in lawsuits and boycotts on Alaska tourism.

Earlier this year, 123 scientists issued a report claiming that Fish and Game's program is flawed because the department didn't incorporate certain biological guidelines from the National Research Council, which provides scientific advice to the federal government.

If approved by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and the Department of Law and the state Division of Elections, the initiative would need to get 31,451 signatures from two-thirds of the house districts in Alaska before it gets on the 2006 ballot, said Annette Kreitzer, Leman's chief of staff.

The signatures have to be turned in by Jan. 9, 2006, she said.

The state Board of Game has authorized aerial wolf predator control in five Alaska hunting areas from Tok to the Kuskokwim River and baiting of grizzly bears in one hunting unit also in the Interior.

Since the 2003-2004 winter, Alaskans who obtained the permits have shot approximately 423 wolves. Five of those wolves were taken illegally, Robus said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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