Outside influence center of wildlife debate

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

As with the title character in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca," the alleged protagonist is missing from Alaska's debate about wildlife management.

A forum in Juneau about two issues coming up on Tuesday's election ballot kept the focus on whether "Outside animal rights activists" are trying to manipulate the state's initiative process from afar.

Joel Bennett of Juneau, facing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Friday, held up his hunting license and asked the audience if he looked like an animal rights activist.

"Where is this wave of animal rights extremism?" Bennett asked. "It's not happening in Alaska."

But Carl Rosier of Juneau insisted that "elitists associated with Outside animal rights groups" have made Alaska "a prime target."

"The weapon of choice is the initiative process," Rosier said. The intent is to end hunting, trapping and the possession of firearms by citizens, he said.

Rosier contends animal rights organizations are funding the Alaska ballot groups promoting conservation, although so far no one has been able to prove it. Meanwhile, a pro-hunting ballot group admits receiving funds from an umbrella organization that includes the National Rifle Association.

Friday's debate concerned Ballot Measure 1, a constitutional amendment to ban citizen initiatives on wildlife, and Ballot Measure 6, a referendum on legislative changes to the ban on same-day land-and-shoot hunting of wolves enacted by voters in 1996.

Rosier, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said Ballot Measure 1 is needed to keep wildlife-management decisions from being based on "30-second sound bites."

Ballot Measure No. 6 should be defeated, allowing licensed hunters and Fish and Game personnel to conduct same-day airborne hunting of wolves in order to even out predators and prey, Rosier said. The Legislature partially reinstated the right to land-and-shoot because the Knowles administration refused to implement predator control, he said. The practice is allowed in officially designated predator-control areas, under the existing law.

Bennett, a former 14-year member of the Board of Game and co-sponsor of the 1996 and 2000 land-and-shoot ballot measures, said the constitutional amendment is aimed at a problem that doesn't exist. There have been only three wildlife issues on the ballot since statehood, and two have been defeated, he noted.

If the perceived problem is money from animal rights groups coming into Alaska, then the answer is campaign finance reform, not a constitutional amendment eliminating voting rights, Bennett said. But there is plenty of Outside money in other Alaska campaigns, including those of U.S. Rep. Don Young, he said.

Same-day land-and-shoot inevitably would lead to illegal acts such as chasing wolves with aircraft or firing from the air that couldn't be stopped in remote areas of the state, Bennett said. "Responsible hunting is done in a certain way, and it's not through the use of airplanes."

Bennett objects to public safety being raised as an issue in the debate over Ballot Measure 6, saying dogs and bears generally are much more of a threat. Even a wolf caught in a trap won't growl, he said. "It'll allow you to walk up to it and shoot it in the head."

But Rosier said he was moved by a letter in the Anchorage Daily News from the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was attacked by a wolf near Yakutat. "The fact remains that one kid got chewed up pretty badly."

A yes vote on Ballot Measure 6 scraps the law passed by the Legislature that eased the 1996 ban. A no vote keeps the law, which allows some same-day land-and-shoot hunting.

Rosier said that referenda such as Ballot Measure 6 still would be permitted if the constitutional amendment passes. That is, citizens could use the ballot to reject laws passed by the Legislature. They just couldn't initiate new laws on wildlife management, he said.

Bennett said he expects his side to prevail. Since 1996, "I don't think the will of the people has changed."

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