Lawmakers consider preferential use for game, fish

Posted: Tuesday, February 29, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The preferred use of Alaska's wildlife and fish would be killing and eating it under a proposed constitutional amendment approved by the House Resources Committee on Monday.

House Joint Resolution 53, sponsored by Rep. Beverly Masek, inserts language into the constitution stating, ''Consistent with the sustained yield principle, the taking of fish and wildlife for human consumption is the preferred use of fish and wildlife.''

The measure by Masek, R-Willow, the co-chairwoman of the committee, also requires that fish and wildlife be ''enhanced,'' a reference to predator control.

The measure passed 5-4. Representatives from districts with commercial fishermen, including Juneau Republican Bill Hudson, voted against moving the proposal. Hudson wanted more study and said the proposal as written might produce management decisions that hurt the industry.

Masek introduced the proposed amendment as a means of blunting the anti-hunting movement and as a preemptive strike against hunting restrictions.

''The legislation is intended as a vehicle to protect the rights of Alaskans who still desire to live off the land and continue their heritage of hunting, trapping and fishing,'' said Eddie Grasser, Masek's chief of staff and a former member of the Board of Game, who presented the resolution on behalf of his boss.

Grasser said it should be clear that anti-hunting groups by their very nature cannot work constructively with consumptive users.

''They have one goal: to deny fishers, hunters and trappers their legitimate use of the resource,'' Grasser said.

Hunting interests applauded the bill. Dick Bishop of the Alaska Outdoor Council said the proposed amendment makes clear the intent of authors of the constitution to manage game with a sustained yield principle that includes an annual harvest by people.

''Today that fundamental principle is often overlooked or disputed,'' Bishop said.

Former Fish and Game Commissioner Carl Rosier, representing the Territorial Sportsmen, said Alaskans should be alarmed at Gov. Tony Knowles wildlife management policies. In a letter to the Game Board last week, Knowles placed wildlife viewing on an equal footing with recreational hunting. Rosier said Knowles policies send a chilling message to wildlife users and requires legislative oversight.

But Nancy Hillstrand, testifying from Homer, said lawmakers should recognize that the state is in the 21st Century and that the preferred uses of wildlife includes more that consumption.

Hillstrand cited a survey that indicated $780 million was spent in Alaska on wildlife viewing in 1996 and $198 million for hunting.

''There is actually a very large constituency that has a different viewpoint of what a preferential use is,'' Hillstrand said.

Rep. Ramona Barnes, R-Anchorage, asked Hillstrand whether using game to feed one's family was preferable to viewing wildlife.

''We all make our money in different ways,'' Hillstrand said. ''Sometimes you make the money by having the wildlife sitting there in front of you.''

Sue Schrader of Alaska Conservation Voters said requiring game and fish to be enhanced appears to be an effort to enshrine nearsighted principles of intensive game management into the constitution.

She said Masek's proposal introduced undefined concepts such as ''human consumption'' that are likely to do little to settle current conflicts over game and fish.

Barnes pushed for including language making human consumption the preferred use of wildlife and fish. She said the amount of fish taken for use within families is tiny compared to commercial takes.

The bill now moves to the Judiciary Committee

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