Action Disregards Sentiment of Alaskan Voters

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State Senate Passes Bill Subverting Same-day Airborne Wolf Shooting Ban

(03/04/1999) - Juneau, AK -- The Alaska State Senate today passed legislation (SB 74) by a margin of 14 - 6 which directly contradicts a key element of a citizen-enacted ban on same-day airborne wolf shooting approved in November 1996. SB 74, introduced by Sen. Pete Kelley (R-Fairbanks), would turn the existing ban into a vehicle for expanded wolf control. Today's Senate vote disregards a recent statewide poll showing that 70 percent of Alaskan voters oppose any attempt to repeal the 1996 ban.

"The Senate today thumbed its collective nose at the more than 137,000 Alaskans who oppose the practice of state-conducted airborne wolf control absent a biological emergency," said Joel Bennett, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife and a founding member of the Wolf Management Reform Coalition, which was convened specifically to pass the initiative. "The recent statewide poll confirms that the Senate is seriously out of touch with the Alaskan public on this issue."

In 1996, 58 percent of Alaskan voters approved a statewide ballot initiative that effectively repealed a same-day airborne wolf hunting regulation that allowed state officials, or anyone with a $15 trapping license, to use aircraft to fly over wolf habitat, land near wolf packs, and open fire on the animals provided the hunters stay at least 100 yards from the aircraft. Under state law, the legislature may attempt to repeal or amend the same-day airborne wolf shooting ban by a majority vote after February 28, 1999, two years from the date when the initiative was certified.

SB 74 amends the current law by adding language gives the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or the state Board of Game blanket authorization to implement unrestricted airborne wolf control by department personnel or private citizens operating under the department's authority. The bill also would delete all references to a narrowly drawn exception in the case of a biological emergency.

Defenders of Wildlife commissioned a statewide poll conducted by the Anchorage-based Dittman Research Corporation in November 1998 to reveal Alaskan voters' views on the two-year-old ban. Almost the same percentage of Alaskan voters (56 percent) oppose same-day airborne hunting of wolves now as did in 1996. An overwhelming 70 percent of those polled oppose any attempt to repeal the ban legislatively.

Defenders of Wildlife assisted the Alaska-based Wolf Management Reform Coalition in putting the question of same-day airborne wolf hunting on the 1996 state ballot. Defenders also supported a successful statewide media and education campaign on the initiative. Hunters, natives, and conservationists alike supported the initiative, which allowed the state to carry out limited wolf control by aircraft only in the case of a scientifically documented biological emergency when no other alternative was available. Under the law, the control program must be conducted only by state personnel in an area limited to the emergency, with only the minimum number of wolves killed to correct the situation.

SB 74 is just one of a series of attempts by some extremist hunting groups in Alaska to reverse the public's verdict on this issue. Shortly after the historic vote in 1996, initiative opponents filed suit challenging the same-day airborne initiative as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs argued that by virtue of the state's constitutional role as trustee over natural resources, the state legislature has exclusive law-making power with respect to wildlife management issues. Ultimately, the Alaska State Supreme Court rejected that argument and ruled that natural resource issues, such as same-day airborne wolf hunting, are subject to the initiative process under the state constitution.

Additionally, separate legislation, HJR 3, has been introduced in the House. It would amend the state constitution to force future wildlife or natural resource-related initiatives to pass by an unprecedented two-thirds margin, rather than by a simple majority.

Key results of the poll follow:

Alaska Same-Day-Air Hunting Survey - November 1998 Conducted by Dittman Research Corporation, Anchorage. AK

Methodology

During the period of November 5 through November 16, 1998, five hundred six (506) Alaskans over the age of 16, located in 64 communities, were personally contacted via telephone by professional interviewing employees of the Dittman Research Corporation of Alaska. The views and opinions of Alaskan residents were recorded on a strictly confidential basis. A random sample design was used which ensured that all households had an equal chance of being polled. Data processing was completed through a computer system featuring the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program. Citizen opinion measurements by the Dittman Research Corporation, utilizing the previously described methodology analytical procedures and data processing systems have proven to be virtually perfect predictions of political election results in Alaska for the past twenty-eight years.

Findings

In 1996 Alaskan voters approved an initiative to ban the same-day airborne killing of wolves by a margin of 58% to 42%. Today, two years later (1998), the margin appears to remain consistent - reported current support exceeds opposition by 17% (56% support, 39% oppose) and 70% say they would oppose legislative attempts to overturn the ban on airborne hunting.

Question: "And what's your opinion now, two years later - do you support or oppose the hunting of wolves the same day that hunters had been flying?"

Response:

56% oppose
39% support
5% unsure

Question: "Under Alaska law, the State Legislature could attempt to repeal the current ban on same-day airborne wolf hunting early next year. Would you support repealing the ban, or do you feel the ban should be left in place?"

Response:

70% leave ban in place
24% repeal the ban
6% unsure

Opposition to repealing the same-day airborne hunting ban exceeds support in all geographic regions of Alaska and regardless of political affiliation.

 

Oppose

Support

Anchorage

76%

19%

Central

62%

31%

Rural

65%

30%

South Central

62%

32%

Southeast

76%

15%

Democrat    

76%

19%

Republican

60%

37%

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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