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Alaska wildlife management bills going nowhere in Legislature

Jerzy Shedlock

An Anchorage Democrat has introduced three House bills that would alter management of Alaska's wildlife. Rep. Andy Josephson contends his legislation highlights the value of the state's game as well as their draw for tourists. The bills, House Bills 170-172, call for major changes, like creating a buffer zone around a national park and changing the makeup of the Alaska Board of Game.

None of the bills have garnered additional sponsors since their introductions last week. And they're likely doomed, as no representatives in the Alaska House have joined Josephson's push for changes.

The latter bill, HB 172, likely will ruffle the feathers of the Game Board, whose seven members are appointed by the Alaska governor. According to state law and the board's website, members are "appointed on the basis of interest in public affairs, good judgment ... and ability in the field of action of the board, with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view."

HB 172 would add two new sentences to the state law. Josephson argues at least one element is missing -- a member whose general use of game is "nonconsumptive," such as tourism, wildlife viewing or scientific studies.

The board should include a representative of those uses, and the knowledge and experience of board members must reflect all game uses, the press release said. Its current members include a wildlife biologist, former commercial fishermen, subsistence users and trappers.

HB 171 aims to remove a requirement that wildlife management produce an "unnaturally high yield of moose, caribou and deer to increase hunting success." If the bill were passed, the board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could still use predator control in certain situations, when a reduction in predators like wolves is needed.

The guts of HB 171 repeals sections of three state laws, said an aide in Josephson's office. Josephson wants to remove focus on intensive management, which is defined as controlling big game predator populations through measures that sustain the prey at high levels and allow increased human harvest.

"As Alaska's population increases we must hold onto our hunting ethics, including fair-chase principles, and manage our wildlife scientifically, rather than deteriorating into a game farm," said Rep. Josephson in a House Democratic Caucus press release.

But Fish and Game is working to increase hunters' chances of bagging big game without intensive management. In a proposal to the Board of Game, the agency said moose harvest numbers are unlikely to increase rapidly. Liberalizing restrictions will allow up to 40 more moose to be harvested in two Kenai Peninsula-based Game Management Units, said the agency's Southcentral spokesman Ken Marsh. 

Earlier this month, the board passed an amended version of that proposal. Ultimately, it added bulls with a spike as legal game to the current restrictions, Marsh said. The new regulation should create the intended effect, a slight increase in harvests. 

Moose harvests on the Peninsula went from 400 to 600 annually between 2000 and 2010 with a three-brow-tine standard, then dropped dramatically to 30 in the fall 2011, according to Fish and Game. 

The remaining bill, HB 170, would create an area outside of the border of Denali National Park where wolves would be protected.

The Gordon Haber Denali Wolf Special Management Area would protect wolves from hunting and trapping, according to the bill. Haber, an Alaska researcher and activist, and Denali Park pilot Dan McGregor were flying to observe the wolves in October 2009 when their single-engine airplane disappeared. The plane was found on a steep slope west of the East Fork of the Toklat River.

The bill recognizes the economic importance of the tourism industry, especially in Denali National Park, the press release said.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com