ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska voters affirmed their distaste for hunting wolves with airplanes, then sent a strong message to hunting and trapping advocates that they don't want to be removed from the initiative process on wildlife issues.
With 79 percent of the state's precincts reporting early Wednesday, voters were saying ''yes'' to Ballot Measure No. 6, which would restore a ban on all land-and-shooting hunting of wolves and other predators.
''The people told the state Legislature in 1996 that they overwhelmingly oppose hunting wolves with the use of an airplane on the same day,'' said Paul Joslin, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. ''Now they've told them again.''
Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak, supported limited land-and-shoot hunting and said the measure depended upon convincing urban voters that rural residents needed help against wolves. Morgan's district included McGrath, where residents say wolves are depleting the moose population they depend on for food.
''It's going to be hard on the whole state after awhile,'' Morgan said. ''Everybody wants to hunt for this game. We're willing to let the moose die and let the wolves live.''
Voters also were rejecting Ballot Measure No. 1, which would ban citizen initiatives dealing with wildlife.
''People were saying 'No, we're not stupid, we can judge wildlife initiatives just like we can judge transportation, education or any other issues,''' Joslin said. ''It certainly sent a strong message to the Legislature.''
Voters in 1996 banned all use of aircraft to spot predators, then land and allow hunters to shoot them.
Part of that ban was partially rolled back by legislators this year in a bill sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks. The change would have allowed land-and-shoot hunting in areas the Board of Game has designated for predator control efforts.
That was too much for supporters of the ban. They saw the change as an example of a heavy-handed and arrogant Legislature that ignored the wishes of voters.
Alaskans for Wildlife, the group that put the referendum on the ballot, collected thousands of signatures to allow voters to restore the restriction.
Supporters of Ballot Measure 1 said they wanted to ban ''ballot box biology'' imposed by voters influenced by emotional advertising campaigns financed by Lower 48 groups.
Opponent Vic Fischer, a former state senator, said that argument was totally irrelevant. He saw the measure as an attempt to take away Alaskans' voting rights.
''That was the basic issue,'' Fischer said. ''I think people saw through it. They realized the issue of Outside money needs to be dealt with through campaign finance reform and not by taking away people's voting rights.''
Ballot Measure No. 1 brought together an unusual coalition of supporters. The Alaska Federation of Natives and other Native groups joined the Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Trappers Association in support of the measure.
Ballot Measure No. 1's backers saw it as vital to counter non-hunters, with no real stake in the management of wildlife, making decisions that affect people who depend on the resource for subsistence, commercial or recreation purposes.
According to the measure's backers, non-hunters can be convinced to vote for ill-advised initiatives by campaigns that feature animals struggling in snares or winded as they run from aircraft.
They want game managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under the direction of the Board of Game, a panel appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.
But opponents said the Game Board process has been 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.
They also said the ballot measure was unnecessary because voters do not automatically back animal-rights campaigns.
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