Alaska Legislature Repeals Key Provision of Wolf Protection Law

(09/25/1999) - Juneau, Alaska - The Alaska legislature today voted to repeal a key provision of a wildlife protection law passed by the state’s citizens in a November 1996 ballot initiative. The legislature voted 40 to 20 to reduce restrictions on the use of airplanes to shoot wolves and other predators. The vote overrode a July veto by Alaska Governor Tony Knowles of legislation passed by the legislature in May to overturn the ballot initiative.

"By voting to override the Governor of Alaska’s veto and the clear will of the state’s citizens, the state legislature has set back efforts to reform Alaska’s long-controversial policies for wolf ‘control,’" said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen.

In 1996, 58 percent of Alaskan voters approved a statewide ballot initiative that effectively repealed a same-day airborne wolf hunting regulation that had allowed not only state employees, but also anyone with a $15 trapping license, to use aircraft to fly over wolf habitat, land near wolf packs, and open fire on animals provided the hunters moved at least 100 yards from the aircraft. The initiative, which applies to wolves, wolverines, fox, and lynx, allowed the state to use aircraft to assist in controlling wolves only in cases of biological emergency.

The bill approved by the legislature amends current law by removing the restriction that allows the use of aircraft only in cases of biological emergency and authorizes the state to use airplanes in an increased number of situations. For example, airplanes can be used to control wolves if wolf predation is reducing certain prey populations of moose and caribou found to be important for human consumption, and airplanes are necessary for accomplishing this objective.

The 1996 Ballot Measure 3, along with new, more progressive policies adopted by Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, had been helping to abate decades-old wolf management controversies. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the State Board of Game used wolf control to artificially increase populations of moose and caribou primarily for consumption by sport hunters. In the mid-1990s, state proposals for new wolf control programs had led some national groups to propose a tourist boycott.

In 1995, in response to a wave of negative publicity, newly elected Governor Tony Knowles suspended state control efforts and called for a review of the State’s predator control programs by the National Academy of Sciences. The 1996 wolf initiative was specifically aimed at ending a 1993 Alaska Board of Game “land and shoot" trapping regulation that was credited with dramatically increasing wolf kills.

In February 1999, Defenders of Wildlife released a poll showing that 70 percent of Alaskan voters opposed any attempt to repeal the 1996 ballot measure.

"The Alaska legislature has once again demonstrated that it is totally out of step with Alaska’s citizens and Governor Knowles’ administrative policies on a high-visibility wildlife management issue," said Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska representative Joel Bennett. "I’m bracing for a new era of turmoil over wildlife management controversies, which I thought had been decisively settled by Alaska’s citizens three years ago," Bennett added.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270