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February 23: Anchorage Daily News on ''ballot box biology'':

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2000

Rep. Carl Morgan and nine other sponsors want to amend the Alaska Constitution to ban wildlife management decisions from the initiative process.

They say ''ballot-box biology'' puts some vital management decisions in the hands of the uninformed, with bad results.

At best, wildlife managers see their jobs become more complicated. At worst, people in the Bush suffer decisions made by people without a clue about life off Alaska's road system whose view of nature owes more to Disney than to rigorous science and reality.

People voting in Turnagain, perhaps persuaded by campaigns orchestrated Outside and bankrolled by Outside money, can take food off the table of a family in McGrath.

While amendment backers' arguments are understandable, they don't amount to enough for a constitutional amendment. We can think of at least four good reasons why.

--We should always go slowly before we do anything to limit the rights of the people defined in the Alaska Constitution. This proposal has a specific focus on wildlife management. But what's next? Will some other constituency demand that the people have no direct say in another field, but defer to those who earn or claim expert status?

--If backers are able to win an amendment to keep wildlife issues off the ballot, they may one day regret their success, when the initiative process is not the enemy of hunters, trappers and fishermen but their own last resort.

--Fear of well-financed efforts against trapping or wolf control that command Outside financial support shouldn't drive us to limit our own rights. This shows an unintended contempt for Alaska voters, as if we were just marketing targets, sure to be swayed by calculated campaigns. Yes, there's always a danger in the popular vote. It's part of the chance we take in a democratic system. But if Alaskans were a sure mark for emotional appeals, we have passed the wolf-snaring initiative in 1998. We didn't.

--It's tough for some Alaskans to take, but Alaska's fish and wildlife don't belong just to those who fish, hunt and trap. Wildlife management goes beyond the Fish and Game boards and their fellow sportsmen. Not all Alaskans agree on the ethics, wisdom and practical effects of wildlife management programs, but all have a right to their say.

This riles those who say a popular vote shouldn't turn science on its head. But much of wildlife management science isn't certain; the biologists to whom this proposal would defer don't always agree upon or fully understand what's going on in the natural world.

It's a mistake to curtail people's constitutional rights because you don't always like the outcome of the exercise of those rights. Democratic government can be messy, costly and inconvenient. It's worth it.

Those who think initiatives on wildlife management issues will give us bad law should fight against them in the public arena and live with the results of the ballot box.



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