Wildlife measures pit environmentalists against hunters, Natives

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska voters get two chances Election Day to cast another vote on the 1996 initiative that banned land-and-shoot wolf hunting.

Ballot Measure 1, a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature, would ban such initiatives dealing with wildlife. Its supporters argue that game management is too important to be subjected to ''ballot-box biology'' imposed by voters influenced by emotional campaigns.

Ballot Measure 6, a referendum placed on the ballot by citizen petition, would restore the 1996 ban in full, erasing a partial rollback of the law passed by the Legislature earlier this year. Its supporters, who also oppose Measure 1, say lawmakers first flouted the will of the people who passed the initiative and now want to strip them of a vital constitutional right.

The campaigns for and against Measure 1 are drawing more attention and more money, as pro-hunting interests try to slam the door on more wildlife initiatives and environmentalists and animal-rights activists try to maintain what they see as a vital way for them to change outmoded laws.

The Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, an unlikely alliance of organizations including Alaska Native groups, the Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Trappers' Association, wants to head off more campaigns like the 1996 initiative and the failed 1998 bid to ban snaring wolves.

''We simply can't afford to ante up $200,000 to $300,000 every two years to defeat a wildlife initiative sponsored by what I call the animal-rights fanatics,'' said Al Jones, the coalition's treasurer.

Opponents contend that the constitution doesn't need to be changed because voters haven't followed in lockstep behind the animal-rights campaigns.

''Alaskans chose to go against same-day airborne hunting but they didn't support the snaring initiative,'' said Paul Joslin, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. ''Alaskan voters can be trusted to make good decisions.''

However, the amendment's backers see it as vital because of a growing phenomenon -- non-hunters with no real stake in the management of wildlife for hunters. Such people, they argue, can be convinced to vote for ill-advised initiatives by campaigns that feature animals struggling in snares or panting as they run from aircraft.

They argue that hunters, especially rural hunters who depend on moose and caribou for food, then have to live with the consequences of the ballot measure. Backers cite the McGrath area, where locals report declining moose populations and dogs snatched off porches by wolves since the 1996 initiative.

They want game managed by the Alaska Department of Fish Game under the direction of the Board of Game, a panel appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature that has authorized wolf control, only to have that directive countermanded by Gov. Tony Knowles. Knowles contends the public does not support aggressive predator-control efforts.

But opponents of the amendment see the Game Board process as a game rigged by the political power of hunting interests. Board appointees without solid pro-hunting credentials have been routinely rejected by the Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years.

''Most Americans do not hunt or trap, most Americans are people who enjoy wildlife to go out and see it,'' Joslin said. ''Seventy-five percent of Alaskans above age 16 do not have either a hunting or a trapping license.''

Accusations of Outside money and influence fly from both sides of the campaign. The amendment's backers say they're battling Lower 48 animal-rights activists who want to turn Alaska into a giant zoo, while opponents say it's aimed at turning the state into a massive feed lot for hunters.

The Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life took $75,000 -- about a quarter of its total income -- from the Ballot Issues Coalition, an organization that channels money into state campaigns from groups including the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Association, the National Rifle Association, the National Trapping Association and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.

Meanwhile, the main opposition groups -- No On 1 - Protect Our Constitutional Rights -- listed three umbrella groups -- Alaska Conservation Voters, Alaska Conservation Alliance and Northern Alaska Environmental Center -- as the source of nearly all of its $122,857.

The umbrella groups said they hadn't taken money from Outside animal-rights groups. But they wouldn't disclose their donors.

Meanwhile, the campaign on Measure 6 is much more lopsided. The referendum would repeal Senate Bill 267, sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who contends the 1996 initiative has let wolves run rampant, killing moose, caribou and even family pets.

The bill would allow land-and-shoot hunting in areas the Board of Game has designated for predator control efforts.

Alaskans for Wildlife, the group that put the referendum on the ballot, has raised nearly $200,000, including almost $100,000 from 6,098 people who gave less than $100.

The referendum's backers see it as a message to an arrogant Legislature.

''A huge number of citizens got together and raised thousands and thousands of signatures to get this back on the ballot and maybe send a message to the state Legislature that they spoke once before and they need to be heard,'' Joslin said. ''Those days are gone. That's not how our predators are to be managed.''

Meanwhile, the Abundant Wildlife Coalition, a predominantly Native campaign, has raised only $10,176, mostly from the village of McGrath. The Alaska Outdoor Council contributed $500, but most of the money from hunting groups has gone to the campaign for the constitutional amendment.

''We feel kind of outnumbered,'' said Carol Torsen, the group's secretary-treasurer. ''We just hope that the public will understand the issue from the perspective of people who live off the land and who depend so desperately on having moose year after year.''

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