Voters say no to predator initiative

Voters say no to predator initiative

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Alaska residents went to the polls Tuesday to vote on a ballot initiative that, if passed, would have ended the state's predator control program as now conducted.

With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, the measure lost with more than 55 percent of voters saying no.

Ballot Measure 2 would have prohibited the shooting of wolves and bears either from the air or once a plane has landed, unless the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game found that a "biological emergency" existed and had adequate scientific proof.

The measure defined a biological emergency as one in which a prey population would irreversibly decline unless aircraft were used to reduce the number of wolves and bears.

It also would have required state employees to conduct predator control. Now, private citizens are permitted to kill the animals.

The initiative also would have allowed only the minimum number of predators to be removed to end the emergency.

With more than half of the vote tallied, the measure was losing with more than 55 percent of voters saying no.

The measure's coauthor, Joel Bennett of Juneau, said he was disappointed with the results but still felt "like we're on the right side of things."

Bennett, a former Board of Game member, said he would continue to fight the state's predator control program.

"We don't give up, as the saying goes," Bennett said.

The state's predator control program, begun in McGrath in 2003 and now operating in five areas of Alaska, is designed to help boost moose and caribou numbers where residents say game has become too scarce.

Under the program, more than 800 wolves have been killed and a far smaller number of bears.

Supporters of the state's predator control program say it is doing some good, bringing much-needed relief to rural residents at a time when the cost of living in Bush Alaska is skyrocketing with the prices for food and fuel.

Opponents say the program, approved by the state Board of Game, thwarts the will of the people, who have twice voted to undo similar programs where aircraft were used to track and kill predators.

Opponents also say the program caters to big game hunters and guides from urban areas, mostly Anchorage and Fairbanks, by manipulating game populations unnecessarily.

No one needs moose and caribou meat so much that wolves and bears need to be shot from the air, said Breffny Conley, 48, of Chugiak, as he prepared to vote.

"I think it is morally wrong. That is a sport for cowards," he said. "God gives us things on earth that you can work for or steal. That's stealing."

Before Alaska statehood in 1959, shooting wolves from airplanes was common. Aerial sport hunting was banned in 1972 but the law allowed aerial shooting for predator control.

In 1996 and 2000, voters rejected using aircraft to help track and kill wolves. The legislature overturned the measures.

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