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Local authority on Interior Alaska antlerless moose hunts questioned
by Tim Mowry/tmowry@newsminer.com

FAIRBANKS — As it turns out, all the ruckus local hunters have been raising about antlerless moose hunts on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks may be for naught.

Or maybe not.

During a statewide Alaska Board of Game meeting in Anchorage last month, it was brought to the attention of board members that the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee may not have the authority to prevent an antlerless moose hunt in Game Management Unit 20A south of Fairbanks, even if it wants to.

A state regulation adopted by the Board of Game almost 30 years ago states advisory committees must either be located in or the majority of its members must live in the affected unit or subunit to have veto power in that unit or subunit. In the case of the Fairbanks advisory committee, it is neither in unit 20A, nor do the majority of members live in unit 20A. It is in unit 20B and that’s where all the committee members live.

In past years, the game board has allowed four different local advisory committees — Fairbanks, Delta, Minto-Nenana and Middle Nenana — to vote on the matter of antlerless hunts in units 20A and 20B.

But now, less than a month before the Board of Game is scheduled to meet in Fairbanks to consider, among a multitude of other things, antlerless moose hunts in units 20A and 20B, and just days before the Fairbanks advisory committee is scheduled to vote on whether to reauthorize those hunts, the Board of Game is waffling about whether the Fairbanks advisory committee’s vote, as well as that of the Delta advisory committee, will count.

New interpretation

According to a memo from senior assistant attorney general Kevin Saxby, who provides legal counsel to the Board of Game, neither the Fairbanks or Delta advisory committees have authority to vote on the reauthorization of antlerless moose hunts in unit 20A, because they are outside the area and the majority of its members don’t reside in the area.

“That’s the last interpretation I got,” game board chairman Cliff Judkins said in a phone interview with the News-Miner. “We can only interpret it the way law is written.”

The new interpretation came as a surprise to Judkins, who has sat on the board for several years.

“We had all interpreted it the other way,” he said of the

regulation. “I’d never looked at the regulation before. We haven’t had that issue come up anywhere else.”

It came up after Fairbanks advisory committee member Al Barrette brought it to the attention of the board. Barrette said he did so because “the integrity of the advisory committee was being questioned” and he wanted to make sure the committee was acting appropriately.

“There was nothing malicious about this,” Barrette said. “I was just asking the Board of Game to give us direction. All this was was getting clarification.”

Jim Sampson, the former borough mayor and a critic of the antlerless hunts, called the situation “a political back-door deal” to send the message to the Fairbanks advisory committee “to either get in line (with the antlerless hunts) or you’re out of here.”

“This is something they’ve been working on in case it looks like the Fairbanks advisory committee wasn’t going to go along with the cow hunts,” Sampson said.

Divisive issue

The antlerless hunts have been a wedge that has split the Fairbanks hunting community in recent years. Some hunters are morally opposed to shooting cow moose while others view it as an opportunity to put more moose on the tables of Alaskans.

Since 2004, almost 3,000 antlerless moose have been killed in unit 20A but the hunts have created social issues such as overcrowding, hunter conflict, trespassing and overharvesting of moose in some accessible areas.

Last month, more than 200 people showed up at the Fairbanks advisory committee meeting to discuss the antlerless hunts and provide public testimony in favor of or against the hunts. The Fairbanks advisory committee is scheduled to vote whether to approve the hunts on Wednesday.

Barrette, who sat on the Board of Game briefly two years ago but was replaced after his appointment wasn’t confirmed by the legislature, admits he doesn’t think advisory committees should have the authority to veto cow hunts if the Department of Fish and Game says they are needed to stabilize a moose population, which is the case in unit 20A.

Barrette called the 1976 statute giving advisory committees that authority “a piece of knee jerk legislation.” Advisory committee members aren’t trained, professional biologists and shouldn’t be allowed to make biological decisions based on personal or political beliefs, he said.

“It’s not right when you start playing politics with management,” he said.

Shocking development

New Fairbanks advisory committee chairman Terry Marquette said he’s as confused as anyone about where the committee stands.

“Who’s our boss? Is it the Board of Game? Is it (Kevin) Saxby?” Marquette said. “They took that legal advisory and made everyone aware of it, but they didn’t issue any directive.”

The reaction of advisory committee members when they read the memo from Saxby was “absolute shock,” Marquette said.

As it stands now, the Fairbanks advisory committee will vote on the reauthorization of unit 20A antlerless hunts just as it has in past years.

“Until it’s officially resolved we’re going to continue to work with the reaffirmation process we’ve got set up,” Marquette said. “We may be told later we’ve wasted our time and we don’t have jurisdiction out there.

“I think what everybody is hoping is the precedent has been set and we’ll be allowed to continue to participate in reauthorization process,” Marquette said. “If the (Board of Game) turns around and slam dunks the (advisory committees), they’re in essence saying the (advisory committees) don’t mean anything.”

Compromise solution

All four advisory committees met with staff from the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks on Saturday in hopes of hammering out a compromise regarding the antlerless hunt similar to the one agreed on four years ago when hunters grew restless about the antlerless hunts.

The advisory committees and department negotiated a toned-down version of the hunt by reducing the number of permits issued, reducing the harvest quota and eliminated the take of calves and cows with calves. That was enough to make the antlerless hunt palatable to three of the four advisory committees.

The consensus is that some kind of compromise will be reached to continue the antlerless hunts in some way, shape or form.

While Marquette isn’t sure which way the Fairbanks advisory committee will vote, he said several members would rather see the department make some concessions to the antlerless hunts than kill them outright. An earlier close to the season, for example, would eliminate two major concerns — shooting pregnant cows and shooting bulls that were illegal during the general hunting season but are legal during the winter because they have dropped their antlers.

“I do know a lot of people who are of the opinion that some things can be changed and we could still continue the cow hunt,” he said.

Judkins said he would prefer to have all four advisory committees vote on the antlerless hunt reauthorization but that goes against the regulation.

Saxby told the board it could change the regulation because it dates back to the time when there was only one joint board of fish and game and decisions regarding antlerless moose hunts were the responsibility of the game board.

Saxby also told board members they could require the approval of additional advisory committees even if those advisory committees are not located in or the majority of their members don’t reside in a unit or subunit.

“You can decide we want to have more committees voting in favor because this is such a controversial thing in this area,” Saxby said.

But it was clear listening to discussion at the Board of Game meeting that some board members don’t like the power advisory committees wield when it comes to antlerless moose hunts.

Board member Ted Spraker of Kenai went so far as to say the department and game board has been “blackmailed” by the Fairbanks advisory committee on the matter of antlerless hunts.

“I believe in the public process, but I don’t believe in being strong-armed by eight or 10 people who vote themselves in by bringing 50 or 100 like-minded people,” Spraker said.

Saxby told him only the Legislature can change the statute that gives advisory committees veto power over cow hunts.

To which Spraker replied, “There’s not a legislator in the country that will take on that issue.”

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Local authority on Interior Alaska antlerless moose hunts questioned



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