ANCHORAGE - Alaska will spend $400,000 to educate residents about its predator control program, but opponents say the money will be used to counter a citizens' initiative aimed at halting the killing of animals from the air.
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Voters will decide next year whether to ban aerial shooting and land-and-shoot hunting by private citizens that have been used to try to boost moose or caribou populations.
Joel Bennett of Alaskans for Wildlife, an initiative co-sponsor, called the education money "outrageous."
"It looks like it's a clear effort to thwart the public will," he said.
State game managers do not know how they will spend the $400,000. It will not be used to influence the election, said Ron Clarke, assistant director for the state's Division of Wildlife Conservation.
"We're a science-based agency," he said, and the state will try to share that information in a way the public can understand.
Aerial predator control lets private citizens shoot wolves from the air or conduct land-and-shoot hunting of wolves in five rural areas of the state.
In the last year, the state also has liberalized bear hunting in some of those areas.
More than 700 wolves have been killed since the program began almost five years ago. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates there are 7,000 to 11,000 wolves in Alaska.
Wildlife biologists say that population can sustain an annual harvest of 30 percent to 40 percent. The number of wolves the state wants killed each year is a fraction of that percentage. In the most recent season that ended last spring, wildlife managers wanted no more than 664 wolves killed.
The initiative has been approved for the August primary election ballot. It will ask voters to change the law so that only Department of Fish and Game personnel can shoot wolves or bears from the air, or land and shoot the predators.
Also, the department would need to prove that a biological emergency exists to kill predators, Bennett said.
Alaska voters approved similar measures in 1996 and 2000. Both times, the Legislature allowed the Game Board to create new programs after the two-year initiatives expired.
Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, requested the education measure.
Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd would not comment about the education money when asked Friday. Lloyd wrote a column in the pro-hunting Alaska Outdoor Council summer newsletter saying the wildlife division plans to educate the public about predator control largely by distributing two publications through Fish and Game offices.
Clarke, however, said he did not think the appropriation would be used for those efforts.
Department officials are still working with the Game Board to determine how the $400,000 should be spent, Clarke said. They hope to start the campaign by this fall.
Tom Banks, an Alaska-based spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife said the timing of the education campaign makes it propaganda.
"If it was some small amount, maybe $40,000 or something, I could see they'd get out basic info, but $400,000 will pay for an awful lot of campaigning," he said.