Alaska's Gov. Signs Wolf Control Bill

Priscilla Feral feral at
Thu Jun 19 11:38:54 EDT 2003

Murkowski signs aerial wolf control bill
By Associated Press


Gov. Frank Murkowski signed a bill Wednesday that could let private hunters
shoot wolves from airplanes.

Senate Bill 155 allows private citizens to participate in aerial and
so-called land-and-shoot hunting in approved state predator-control
programs. It also makes it easier for the Alaska Board of Game to implement
such efforts.

Murkowski had earlier objected that the bill cuts the administration out of
predator control decisions. But he concluded that the administration retains
ultimate authority over predator control in Alaska.

The state Department of Fish and Game can refuse to fund programs and can
block private hunters from receiving the federal permit needed for aerial

"The Department of Fish and Game will continue to have significanti
nvolvement in the predator management process," Murkowski said in a
statement. "However, the bill provides a useful tool to the Board of Game
in using predator control to achieve abundant and healthy game populations
in Alaska."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, also loosened
restrictions under which the Game Board can call for predator control.

Existing law says the board must determine prey population _ moose or
caribou _ has fallen below previously established minimum levels before
enacting a predator control program. Under the new law, the board could act
regardless of the prey population.

The Game Board last March listed aerial hunting as its top choice for
eliminating about 40 wolves in a predator-control program near McGrath.

The board wanted state Department of Fish and Game employees to shoot them
from helicopters, but Murkowski wouldn't allow it, saying he wanted McGrath
residents to take care of the problem.

Seekins' bill may satisfy both Murkowski's desire to leave wolf control to
private citizens and hunters' desire to shoot from the air.

Aerial wolf hunts could be used soon, but sparingly, said Matt Robus, Fish
and Game's director of wildlife conservation. Robus said the department is
interested in aerial wolf hunting near McGrath, where the state has been
capturing and removing bears in a predator control experiment this summer.

But in other areas of the state, predator control may not be effective for
technological, biological or social reasons, Robus said.

"It's not just the wildlife biology that's tough but how different members
of the public feel and how that comes to bear on the department," Robus

Opponents of aerial wolf control say the Game Board and department will be
wise to use the new predator control authority carefully.

"The state has to analyze the impact of one program on other programs, what
the national outcry is going be, how much (department) personnel time is
needed for response. It's not a low-impact program," said Joel Bennett, a
former Game Board member who now represents Defenders of Wildlife.

The last time the Legislature eased restrictions in the state's
land-and-shoot laws, voters overturned the action through a ballot
referendum. Bennett said opponents of the new law "haven't decided what to
do yet."

But a national outcry and tourism boycott could result, he said.

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