Wildlife Battle Erupts in Alaska
By Paul Queary
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Oct. 27, 2000; 1:50 p.m. EDT JUNEAU, Alaska As fall comes to rural Alaska, hunters roam the rivers and woods for moose, trying to pack family freezers with meat for the long winter.
Moose is a staple during the seven coldest months, when it is 50 below zero and groceries can cost three times city prices.
In places like McGrath, more than 200 miles northwest of Anchorage on the Kuskokwim River, just one of the giant animals provides hundreds of edible pounds and can be the difference between plenty and want.
But despite the antlers decorating the doorways and fireplaces of McGrath's log houses, locals say hunting is not what it was.
They blame the wolves.
Communities like McGrath, a town of 400, roughly half Alaska Native and half white, are at the center of a bitter fight in Alaska over killing wolves.
In 1996, Alaska voters banned land-and-shoot wolf hunting, the practice of spotting wolves from aircraft, landing and killing them.
Since then, say McGrath residents, the wolves have multiplied. They prowl the outskirts of town and snatch pet dogs. Competition from wolves leaves fewer moose for people in McGrath, and sends hunters farther to find them.
Before the ban, McGrath's hunters seldom went more than 30 miles to find a moose, said Bob Magnusson, a charter pilot who has lived in McGrath for 50 years.
"People are spending days on the river and massive quantities of fuel to capture a moose," Magnusson said. "Before this ban, it was not unusual to see 15 or 20 or 30 moose in the same bend of the river."
Backers of the 1996 land-and-shoot ban argued that such hunting practices are cruel and unsportsmanlike, and that airborne hunters chased wolves to exhaustion before killing them.
Responding to complaints from McGrath and elsewhere, lawmakers relaxed the ban this spring to allow land-and-shoot hunting where needed to control predators.
But backers of the initial ban have regrouped. Their proposal to restore the full ban is on the Alaska ballot Nov. 7.
"Most Americans do not hunt or trap. Most Americans are people who enjoy wildlife to go out and see it," said Paul Joslin, head of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, which backs the hunt-and-shoot ban.
Joel Bennett, a wildlife filmmaker in Juneau and sponsor of the ban, said land-and-shoot hunting is "a nasty business."
He said lifting the ban is unlikely to solve McGrath's problem and that urban sport hunters who want more moose and caribou to hunt are seizing on McGrath's plight to try to get their way.
Opponents of the ban complain they are outnumbered and outspent on an issue critical to their lives and culture.
The public needs to understand "the perspective of people who live off the land and who depend so desperately on having moose year after year," said Carol Torsen of the Abundant Wildlife Coalition, whose members are mostly Alaska Natives.
Pro-hunting forces have put their own measure on the ballot, a proposed constitutional ban on any future ballot measures dealing with wildlife.
"We simply can't afford to ante up $200,000 to $300,000 every two years to defeat a wildlife initiative sponsored by what I call the animal-rights fanatics," said Al Jones of the Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, an alliance of trappers, big-game hunters and Alaska Native groups.
Alaska is among several battleground states next month where animal-rights groups and hunters are at odds:
In Oregon and Washington, nearly identical initiatives would ban body-gripping traps for most uses.
In Arizona, a backlash against a ban on leghold traps voters imposed six years ago has led to a new proposal to require two-thirds of voter approval for game-related initiatives.
In North Dakota and Virginia, proposed constitutional amendments would protect hunting and fishing as rights.
In Montana, an initiative would curb the number of game farms, where hunting is in fenced enclosures.
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