An Anchorage attorney has filed a lawsuit against the Alaska Board of Game in an attempt to halt a moose hunt proposed for mobility-impaired people in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park.
And Tuesday, three Anchorage Assembly members plan to introduce an ordinance spurred by the hunt that would require Assembly sign-off to allow hunting on city parklands.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Anchorage Superior Court, says the moose hunt would violate the Alaska Constitution because it would grant “exclusive or special privileges to hunt and fish for Alaska wildlife to a specific group.”
The lawsuit asks a the Superior Court to declare the proposed hunt unconstitutional, and for an injunction that would prevent the state from taking steps to implement it.
Separately, a proposed ordinance on the agenda to be introduced at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting would require that the city parks department not authorize shooting a firearm or a crossbow on city parkland unless “a written plan to mitigate the safety risks” is approved by the assembly.
The ordinance, introduced by Anchorage Assembly members Anna Brawley, Chris Constant and Daniel Volland, would “give the Assembly the role of final decision maker” to allow hunting in city parks, according to an attached memo.
In March, the Alaska Board of Game approved a proposal from Ira Edwards, of Palmer, that would create a limited moose hunt open only to mobility-impaired hunters for a period in the fall. Hunters would have to be 70% disabled or more, and would need to take a hunter education course. The idea still needs buy-in from the city parks department, which manages Kincaid Park. And the earliest a hunt would happen is the fall of 2024, Edwards said.
Since the Board of Game’s 7-0 decision, the idea of moose hunting in a heavily-used urban park in Anchorage has met both support and resistance.
The plaintiff of Friday’s lawsuit is Anchorage attorney Michelle Stone Bittner, who describes herself as an Alaska resident since 1979 who frequently uses the 1,400-acre park to hike, bike, run, walk, ski and geocache. Stone Bittner is representing herself in the lawsuit.
Stone Bittner said she was motivated to pursue a legal challenge to the proposed hunt because she sees hunting in Kincaid as incompatible with abundant wildlife she views as a unique and essential part of the Anchorage experience, for both tourists and residents.
“I feel really strongly about this,” she said.
Stone Bittner said she talked with Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang — they met in person at Kincaid, she said — but he said he wouldn’t stop the hunt from going forward. She decided to pursue the proposal on legal grounds instead.
“After looking at the law, I believe that it’s pretty clear that what the Board of Game did is unconstitutional under Alaska’s constitution,” she said. Alaska’s constitution says that “fish, wildlife and waters are reserved to the people for common use,” and courts have interpreted that to mean specific groups can’t be given exclusive or special privileges to hunt, the lawsuit complaint contends.
During a Board of Game hearing on the proposal, a state attorney brought up the issue, saying the hunt could be open to challenges on the grounds that the board didn’t “have the statutory authority to specifically allow hunts that are limited just to people with physical disabilities.”
Edwards, the Palmer man who proposed the limited hunt on behalf of mobility-impaired residents such as himself, said it didn’t appear Bittner had commented during the open public comment period. Alaska, Edwards said, is the only state with “no hunting opportunities for physically disabled individuals.”
The State of Alaska has not yet responded to the lawsuit.