Last weekend, while sitting in on the public testimony part of the Alaska Board of Game meeting in Anchorage, I noted that nothing has changed since the last one I attended, several years ago. The hunters and trappers still want more opportunities for hunting and trapping, and the "antis" still want less hunting and trapping.
The familiar faces had acquired a few more wrinkles, but I also noticed several younger faces among the hunters. I take this as an encouraging sign that hunting remains an important reason for living in Alaska.
The seven-member game board was set to consider and vote upon nearly 250 proposals to change hunting and trapping regulations in the Southcentral and Southwest regions of Alaska. The task is thankless; the pressure, tremendous. You have to admire anyone who thinks Alaska's wildlife resources are so important that they'll commit themselves to three years on this panel.
Like hyenas at a fresh kill, television crews converged on the meeting at the start of the public testimony. Several proposals dealt with predator control, and the media zeroed in on that issue, missing one that promised far more conflict: a proposal that would divide the moose and caribou in Game Management Unit 13 between who is a local Native and who is not.
Proposal 84, by the Ahtna Tene Nene' Customary and Traditional Use Committee, would create a "community subsistence harvest permit" for moose and caribou for tribal members in the villages of Gulkana, Cantwell, Chistochina, Gakona, Mentasta, Tazlina, Chitina and Kluti Kaah. The Ahtna committee would administer the permit system.
Coupled with other proposals by the Ahtna Natives and the Copper Basin Fish and Game Advisory Committee, Proposal 84 would unravel everything the game board has done over the years to regulate moose and caribou hunting in Unit 13. Of more importance, it would establish a precedent for dividing Alaska's resources along racial lines, thereby failing to comply with the parts of the Alaska Constitution and state subsistence laws that give equal subsistence preference to all residents, regardless of race.
I don't blame the Ahtna people for wanting to go back to the "good-old days," before the Nelchina caribou herd crashed, and when moose numbers were higher, and when regulations were few. Times are tough. But I will blame the game board if it caves in under pressure from this group and its ever-present lawyer. No matter what the board does, a lawsuit will follow. With this in mind, the board should base its decisions on constitutional and statutory law, not on emotional pleas for more animals and less regulation.
The Alaska Board of Game is tentatively scheduled to meet daily through Monday, in Anchorage at the Dena'ina Civic & Convention Center, 600 W. 7th Ave. For schedule updates call 1-800-764-8901.
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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