ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An animal rights group says it will be turning in more than 37,000 signatures to the state Division of Elections to place a referendum on the ballot that would repeal land-and-shoot wolf hunting.
If it wins at the polls in November, the referendum would reverse a law enacted this year by the Legislature that again legalized land-and-shoot wolf hunting. That's where hunters spot wolves from the air, land and shoot them.
Alaska voters outlawed the practice by initiative four years ago, but the law passed by the Legislature this year overturned that initiative.
Supporters of land-and-shoot hunting contend that predator problems have increased and voters were confused in 1996. They believe that as long as Gov. Tony Knowles refuses to implement wolf control, land-and-shoot hunting is the only way to control growing wolf populations.
But referendum supporters argue that land-and-shoot hunting is unsportsmanlike and can lead to such abuses as the illegal shooting of wolves from airplanes. They say the Legislature went against public opinion when it passed a law reauthorizing the practice.
That's why they launched this effort to once again ban land-and-shoot hunting, said Joel Bennett, a member of the Wolf Management Reform Coalition and one of the leaders of the 1996 initiative effort.
''I think the other side didn't think we had the energy to do it again,'' Bennett told the Anchorage Daily News.
After the end of the Legislative session, citizens had 90 days to collect a minimum of 22,716 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot.
Bennett said his group collected 15,000 signatures over the required number.
''We had to go just about everywhere because we had such a short amount of time,'' said Michele Keck, who organized the campaign.
The group had about 20 paid petition gatherers and more than 400 volunteers, Keck said. They went to a number of public events, ranging from the Alaska Run for Women to the Saturday Market and Anchorage's Fourth of July celebration. They collected signatures from all of Alaska's 40 election districts.
That includes 1,000 signatures gathered at the World Indian-Eskimo Olympics in Fairbanks and four signatures from seal hunters on St. Lawrence Island, Bennett and Keck said.
Also on the ballot in November will be a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature that would ban future initiatives on wildlife issues.
Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak, supported the land-and-shoot hunting bill. He said he hopes the referendum fails because land-and-shoot hunting is needed to control wolf populations, particularly in areas like McGrath, where the moose population has declined in recent years.
Moose have become even more important in those areas for subsistence since salmon runs in the Kuskokwim and Yukon river drainages have failed, he said.
''This is about people trying to preserve the resource,'' Morgan said.
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