Article 8 of the Alaska Constitution directs the Legislature to provide for the utilization, development and conservation of our wildlife resources "for the maximum benefit of its people," and also states that our wildlife resources are "reserved to the people for common use."
The "people" referenced are Alaskans, not citizens from other states or countries.
The Legislature never enacted any statutes, however, that would require the Board of Game – a seven-member panel that enacts all wildlife regulations – to adhere to the mandates in our constitution that give residents a clear hunting allocation priority.
With such broad authority from the Legislature, and without anything in statute requiring the Board of Game to allocate according to our constitution, the board has become overly influenced by commercial hunting interests.
Case in point: In 2016 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the Central Arctic Caribou Herd many Alaskans depend on for food had dramatically decreased and recommended future hunting restrictions. Resident Hunters of Alaska, the organization I represent, supported new restrictions for all users based on conservation concerns, but recommended to the Board of Game that nonresident hunters bear the brunt of reduced resident hunting opportunity with a 10 percent nonresident harvest cap.
The Board of Game ended up shortening seasons and severely restricting bag limits for both residents and nonresidents, but allocated 43 percent of the projected CAH harvest to nonresidents. Clearly not a "maximum benefit."
[As Alaska Dall sheep populations shrink, guides and hunters vie for bigger share of harvest]
In 2017, RHAK submitted several statewide board proposals that sought an authentic maximum-benefit resident hunting priority that reserved harvest opportunities primarily to residents.
We proposed for all draw permit hunts where both residents and nonresidents were restricted that there be a required 90/10 percent resident/nonresident allocation of permits. We gave an example of a current moose draw permit hunt where 50 percent of the available permits were allocated to nonresidents.
We proposed that the board limit nonresident sheep hunters who harvest 60-80 percent of our Dall sheep in some areas, an issue the board has long admitted is a problem in terms of resident hunter access and harvest opportunities and a quality hunting experience.
And we proposed something that, frankly, we felt was more of a housekeeping issue. We asked that the board confirm that predator control programs under our Intensive Management Law were primarily in place to benefit Alaskans. When and where the state was actively conducting wolf and/or bear control programs to increase an ungulate population to benefit Alaskans, we took the position that until the minimum intensive management population or harvest objective for that population was met, there would be no nonresident hunting allowed, reserving the limited hunting and harvest opportunity for a depleted prey population to residents, as our Intensive Management Law intended.
None of our proposals came close to passing.
To top it off the board drafted a new nonresident allocation policy – approved by five board members – that read as if it was written by the commercial hunting industry, replete with cherry-picked industry talking points. Nothing in that new policy grants residents a real hunting priority to all of our wildlife resources.
This is why Resident Hunters of Alaska will be seeking a legislative solution that requires the Board of Game to allocate at all times according to the mandates in our state constitution.
Our position – RHAK is unapologetically pro-resident – doesn't at all mean that RHAK is "anti-nonresident" or "anti-guide." Just as a position of pro-development doesn't mean one is "anti-environment." We certainly hope nonresident hunting and big game guiding can continue in Alaska. We want others to experience what Alaska has to offer, and to share our wildlife resources with family, friends, and hunters from other states and countries … just within reason. The crazy thing is, every nonresident hunter I've spoken with over the years, after I've explained some of these types of nonresident allocations, agrees! And the typical response I get is: "We would never allow that in our state."
Why are we allowing it in ours? Let your legislators know that a statutory resident hunting priority for all of our wildlife resources is needed and is clearly mandated in our Alaska Constitution. Join us in advocating for Alaskan families and our future hunting opportunities.
Mark Richards is executive director of Resident Hunters of Alaska, www.residenthuntersofalaska.org.
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