Sunday, March 12, 2006

Alaska hunters: expand predator control

By TIM MOWRY - Staff Writer
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Hunters from around the state lined up Saturday to tell the state Board of Game that more bears and wolves must be killed in Alaska to boost the numbers of caribou and moose.

As expected, predator control dominated the discussion during the public testimony portion of the Game Board's 10-day meeting at the Princess Hotel in Fairbanks.

Public testimony began Friday afternoon and occupied all eight hours Saturday. More than 75 people signed up to speak and many of them pounded the same drum.

"We need a predator implementation plan started now," said Wayne Kubat of the Matanuska Valley advisory committee, pleading with the Game Board to expand aerial wolf control in Southcentral Alaska. "Over half the population of Alaska lives in Southcentral and healthy moose populations need to be restored as soon as possible."

While other hunters from other areas echoed that theme, others simply asked the Game Board to loosen regulations on hunting wolves and bears. Proposals to hunt wolves on snowmachines, eliminate brown bear tag fees and allow same-day airborne hunting for black bears on bait stations all received support.

"We think most of these proposals that encourage people to harvest predators in intensive management areas should be explored," said Mike Kramer of the Fairbanks advisory committee.

Anchorage bowhunter John Frost of the Alaska Bowhunters Association urged the board to adopt a proposal that would allow hunters to shoot black bears at registered bait stations on the same day they fly, a practice that is now outlawed. There's no difference with a hunter in the Interior hopping in a plane to fly out to a bait station than there is a hunter in Southeast Alaska hopping in his or her boat and cruising the shoreline for bears, he said. The airplane is being used for transport, not to locate bears, Frost told the board.

"To us, this proposal makes sense," said Frost. "The aircraft is not being used to find or harass or haze bears."

Allowing the same-day airborne hunting of black bears at bait stations would also encourage more hunting in remote areas where bear populations go unchecked, Frost said.

Not all those who spoke were in favor of killing more wolves and bears, however.

Valerie Brown, a lawyer from Anchorage who was representing the Defenders of Wildlife, said that group is adamantly opposed to predator control in Alaska. She spoke out against proposals to hunt wolves with snowmachines and to lengthen the hunting season on wolves in certain areas.

"Chasing wolves down with snowmachines violates the spirit of the law, if not the letter of law as far as harassing game is concerned," she said.

The board is expected to begin deliberations on 167 proposals to change hunting and trapping regulations when public testimony concludes today. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.

Some residents used the opportunity to testify on Saturday as a chance to defend their own personal hunting areas.

Speaking on behalf of the Salcha River Property Owner's Association, John Giuchici of Fairbanks urged the board to reject a proposal by the state Department of Fish and Game to open an antlerless moose hunt in Game Management Unit 20B surrounding Fairbanks.

"An antlerless moose hunt on the Salcha River would be detrimental to the moose population and harvest levels in the future," said Giuchici.

As it is, the river is getting more hunting pressure, which is part of the reason the Salcha River property owners put in a proposal to impose antler restrictions on nonresidents in Unit 20B, said Jim Sampson, who spoke after Giuchici. Sampson also spoke out against a possible cow hunt in Unit 20B.

"You're going to wipe out cows on the river drainages," Sampson told the board.

In a surprising start to Saturday's meeting, Carl Morgan of Akiak resigned from the board. Citing a conflict of interest because he has filed to run for his former seat in the Alaska Legislature in November, Morgan handed in a letter of resignation to board chairman Mike Fleagle. Morgan's decision came after conferring with the Game Board's legal counsel, Kevin Saxby with the Department of Law.

Though they only receive a stipend, Game Board members are considered state employees and must sever any ties with the state when they file for a state office. Morgan, who served two terms in the House of Representatives before losing in 2002, filed for office last month.

It was Morgan who broached the topic of a possible conflict at the end of Friday's meeting, Fleagle said. Nobody on the board was aware Morgan had filed for office.

The only way Morgan's loss will affect the board is if there is a split vote, Fleagle said. The board still requires four votes to adopt or reject a proposal.

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