Senate bill loosens wolf-shooting restrictions

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Anyone with a valid hunting license could use land-and-shoot hunting tactics to kill wolves in much of the state if a bill passed Thursday by the Senate becomes law.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly partially rolls back a 1996 ballot initiative that banned hunters from shooting wolves on the same day they fly on an airplane.

The bill allows land-and-shoot tactics in areas where the Board of Game has adopted regulations for intensive management of big game prey. That definition covers a patchwork of areas that make up about two-thirds of the state, said Geron Bruce, the Department of Fish and Game's liaison to the Legislature.

Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he pushed the measure because of Gov. Tony Knowles' reluctance to initiate a state wolf control program to increase the number of moose and caribou available for hunters.

Kelly cited areas such as McGrath, where residents complain wolves have been attacking dogs in the village itself.

''They're concerned about their future. They're afraid for their kids' safety,'' Kelly said.

Knowles, who has said he would only start a wolf control program with broad public support, has already promised to veto the measure if it passes the House.

''This is one of those rare instances where the governor has said in advance that this is a bill he will veto,'' said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.

However, Kelly said he has more than enough votes to override a veto.

The measure passed 14-5 as three Democrats from Bush districts joined 11 majority Republicans in voting yes.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, who represents McGrath, said the bill would have a positive impact on her constituents ''who are experiencing a dismal decline in moose population.''

Two Democrats and three Republicans -- all from urban districts where the 1996 initiative passed handily -- voted no.

''This bill flies in the face of the citizens' initiative,'' said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.

Kelly brushed aside the notion that the bill overturned the voters' will.

''I don't think the people of Alaska could ever have predicted the crisis of people having their dogs dragged off their porches and killed,'' Kelly said.

Because land-and-shoot hunting would only be legal in certain areas, the bill could cause management problems for the Department of Fish and Game, said Bruce, the department liaison.

''It's going to be a patchwork. It's going to be confusing. It's going to be very difficult to enforce. It's going to be subject to abuse,'' Bruce said.

The bill's passage comes a day after the House approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban initiatives dealing with wildlife. Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak, introduced the measure in an attempt to block initiatives like the 1996 wolf measure.

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