Game Board to take up controversial predator control measures

Posted: Friday, March 03, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Game begins its spring meeting today, and it comes in the midst of a loud and angry debate over how the state should manage its wildlife resources.

The panel will be meeting for 10 days at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks. Board members will be considering more than 130 proposals for hunting and trapping Alaska game species in an area ranging from Fairbanks to Tok.

The seven-member Game Board is responsible for establishing hunting and trapping regulations around Alaska. The panel meets once every three years in the Interior.

But the focus of this meeting will be on wolves.

One proposal that was tentatively approved at the board's January meeting in Anchorage would authorize a wolf-kill program in the Nelchina basin to provide more moose for hunters. Another proposal would protect wolves by establishing a no-trapping and no-hunting buffer to the east of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Each proposal has a growing constituency.

Rural residents and hunting groups held a statewide meeting in McGrath last month to rally support for wolf control.

Animal welfare advocates, a biologist, a tourism representative and Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue spoke at a forum Thursday night in Anchorage that was aimed at broadening the makeup of the Game Board.

''A lot of people who are smelling blood will come to the (Fairbanks) meeting,'' said board member Greg Streveler of Gustavus.

''Sometimes serving on the Board of Game feels like you're a mouse being trampled by a herd of elephants,'' Streveler told the Anchorage Daily News.

Both wolf measures likely will be heard by the board sometime late next week.

Gov. Tony Knowles jumped into the fray a week ago by telling board members he wants them to establish the Denali buffer.

Rue will establish a committee to study predator control only after the board takes steps to protect wolves and bears valuable to wildlife viewing, Knowles told board members.

Knowles also replaced board member Bob Churchill, a supporter of wolf control, with Leo Keeler, a wildlife photographer.

The move angered some, but it pleased others who were hoping for a change in state wildlife management.

''We're hoping that what we're going to see at long last is a recognition that there are diverse interests. Wildlife is for Alaskans,'' said Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

''A lot of different pressures are bearing on the board. They have a lot of choices to make,'' said Matt Robus, deputy director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Besides needing to listen to the public, the board has two supervisors: the governor, who appoints board members, and the Legislature, which confirms the appointments.

The Legislature in recent years has passed laws requiring the Game Board to manage game foremost for hunting.

Knowles and the Legislature couldn't be farther apart on wildlife management.

Resource committees in the past couple of weeks have passed two measures to place hunting above all other uses of wildlife. One would change the Alaska Constitution to value wildlife as food first. Another would ban citizen initiatives governing wildlife management.

Knowles last week also blasted the state's intensive game management law, calling it a ''one-sided approach'' that places too much emphasis on game populations at the expense of predators, which people increasingly like to watch.

The governor's stance on predator control has in turn led to frustration from hunting groups and rural residents.

The entire Denali Fish and Game Advisory Committee resigned in protest last week. The Tok committee resigned Thursday.

Board chairwoman Lori Quakenbush said the board may try to fashion a response to the governor's directive at some point during the meeting.

''There is so much going on,'' Quakenbush said. ''We feel like we're in a box.''

''The board of game does not authorize wolf control because it's fun,'' she said. ''We know predator control is unpopular, controversial and doesn't always work. But there are certain places in the state where the harvest of moose and caribou are important.''

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