With Tuesday's primary election just five days away, we'll be hearing more and more about Ballot Measure 2, the initiative banning private citizens from shooting predators with airplanes.
Opponents will claim this issue is ballot box biology and it's much too complex for most people to understand. They will say it's predator control, not hunting, and therefore not subject to fair chase restrictions. You'll hear that if the initiative passes, current predator control programs will end. Opponents assert that the biological-emergency provision in the initiative is unworkable. And you will hear that sponsors of the initiative are Outside animal rights advocates whose real aim is to abolish all hunting.
Let's examine each of these claims. Is this ballot box biology and too complicated to trust to a vote of the people? Rather than dealing with biology, the initiative actually deals with policy. Is it better to conduct predator control programs with Department of Fish and Game personnel rather than with more than 100 private pilots? And is it better to do predator control only when necessary rather than perpetually? These are policy questions addressed by the initiative. What better place is there to decide policy issues than at the polls?
Is the issue too complex for a public vote? Most of the people I've talked to don't think so. They know that over the past five years pilots have shot more than 700 wolves in five predator-control programs covering nearly 60,000 square miles from Aniak to Tok. They wonder why private pilots are still involved when two previous ballot measures banning them passed by wide margins. They are angry that the Legislature negated those votes. To them, it's not complex at all. They voted for the ban before and now they'll vote again to prohibit a practice they strongly oppose.
What about the claim that aerial shooting by private pilots is not hunting and fair chase rules don't apply? No matter what it's called, most people understand what it is. It's chasing wolves with airplanes for miles through deep snow until they're exhausted. It's shooting them from the air while they have little chance of escape. It's done by pilots not because they are officially on a mission for the state, but rather because they enjoy it and get to keep the hides. Most people know this, object to it and see it as something that should be prohibited.
If the initiative passes, will current predator control programs end? Not necessarily. The initiative provides for control by Department of Fish and Game personnel if there is a biological emergency. This provision is nothing new. Previous wolf control programs included helicopter shooting by state biologists. They were quite efficient and successful, and moose populations in several areas responded favorably. The Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks is one example. What better way is there to ensure that wolves are removed efficiently, safely and humanely than to do it with state personnel?
Nor is the biological-emergency provision new. When I was on the Game Board in the late 1980s this predator control standard was in use. It worked well then to ensure that highly controversial predator control was only applied when necessary, not routinely, and it would work well now and in the future. Supporters of the initiative see some of the current control programs as unnecessary attempts to increase already adequate moose populations to unsustainable levels. They see the initiative as the best way to curb unnecessary predator control.
Are initiative sponsors Outside animal rights advocates? Hardly. The three prime sponsors are all long-term Alaskans who have been involved with hunting and wildlife issues for decades. They were joined by nearly 57,000 registered Alaska voters in signing petitions to put this issue back on the ballot to change policies they strongly oppose. They understand the issues well and won't be fooled by the false assertions of the opponents. Nor should you.
Vic Van Ballenberghe is a wildlife biologist from Anchorage who is a former Board of Game member.
By VIC VAN BALLENBERGHE