Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/14/2004 03:30 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 297-BEAR HUNTING/DISPOSAL OF HIDE/SKULL CHAIR SCOTT OGAN announced SB 297 to be up for consideration and that they had adopted SSSB 297, version W, at the last meeting. MR. MATT ROBUS, Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, said: We believe the sponsor substitute made some important improvements to the original bill. Foremost of these is the change in approach from an expansion of hunting methods to the establishment of a bear predation management program. We think that's an important distinction to make. This avoids some of the ethical issues involved in the original bill which you heard about at previous hearings and it preserves hunting as a fair chase activity, which the department feels is very important. The sponsor substitute limits the use of ordinary additional methods for taking bears to specific situations where the Board of Game has found that a bear population needs to be reduced. The sponsor substitute language would now serve as an umbrella statute to the bear management policy in associated regs that were recently adopted by the Board of Game and do it in a way that is analogous to the structure of wolf predation management laws that we already have. The result of this would be to allow both wolf and bear predation issues to be addressed together in predation control plans formulated by the Board of Game. The Board of Game and department have agreed for quite a while that the first step in reducing bear numbers when necessary should be through liberalized hunting regulations. Often, such attempts have been less effective than hoped because liberalized hunting rules did not result in higher hunter effort even though we had more liberal bag limits and seasons. If you don't have more hunters in the field, it really doesn't result in any more bears being taken. Allowing non-residents to hunt brown and grizzly bears without a guide and treating first-year military personnel as residents are innovative approaches to increasing hunter effort in areas where we need to have more bears taken. At the last meeting of this committee, some members questioned why first year military personnel were included in the exemption for having a guide for taking brown bear and grizzly bear. Concerns are expressed that this might provide an opportunity to challenge the guide requirement based on safety issues. When this concept was first discussed, we in the department suggested that allowing first-year military residents to hunt without a guide would be something to look at because we thought it would likely provide the increase in the number of hunters that we were looking for to increase the harvest in the game management unit (GMU) 13 while having a minimal impact on the guiding industry through legal challenges. We would require all first- year military personnel obtaining a permit to attend a training course where we would emphasize safety and we thought that would reduce the exposure to the safety argument. This could be done rather easily because the military population is a closed group of people that we would have relatively easy access to. Since the bill has been expanded now to allow other non-resident hunters to qualify for permits, it would probably not be necessary to deal with military people separately. However, whatever the permittee pool ends up being, we will consider requiring some level of training as a permit condition. I think this could provide some protection in case the statute is challenged along safety lines. MR. ROBUS said he had some suggested changes. First changing the phrase "control of black and brown or grizzly bear" to something like "bear predation management" in the title and elsewhere in the statute. He thought it best to eliminate the connotation that the state is trying to eradicate bears. "We're trying to have a predation management tool when bears become part of the predation equation that needs to be addressed." Secondly, since the Legislature would be making a distinction between hunting bears and taking them as a predation management measure, he thought it appropriate to not require non-residents to obtain a standard non-resident brown bear tag, because it's hunting related. He did agree with charging some sort of management or permit fee of about $500 rather than $50 - because of the importance of funding the division's management programs. Even with the $500 fee, this program would be the only time in North America that a person could hunt a brown or grizzly bear, with very limited exceptions, without engaging the services of a guide, which costs from $5,000 up to $8,000 for a hunt. The limited exception would be the second degree of kindred possibility that is presently in state regulation. The department believes that the main purpose of the statute should be to establish the authority under which bear predation can be managed and should contain general sideboards for such programs. We believe that including detailed methods and means descriptions at this level is unwise. As the sponsor substitute is written, all of the described methods and means would be authorized in all cases where bear predation management is in effect under a program established by the Board of Game. Since every wildlife management situation is unique and has different challenges, we believe the different bear predation management programs in different areas should be custom tuned and managers and the Board of Game should have the flexibility to choose the methods and means that would be most effective and most appropriate. I'm speaking in general here and have a short list of specific places in the present language where we believe specific methods and means should be removed from the statute language and taken care of at the Board of Game level. In our opinion, a better way to approach all of this would be to have the Board of Game develop the details for each bear predation program and include them in a predation management plan that would be adopted in regulation. This is the way that wolf control is presently done. We think this would mesh nicely with it. This would allow the board to authorize measures appropriate and justifiable for the specific situation without including methods that are not necessary and probably very controversial. The Board of Game developed the regulatory framework for conducting bear predation management at its March meeting and it did so because the members recognized the need to reduce bear predation in certain areas in order to reach regulatory management guidelines. The board adopted a bear management policy, which included provisions for reducing bear numbers when certain conditions are met. They adopted regulations to allow issuance of permits for bear population reduction. So, the regulatory structure for bear predation management is substantially in place already. The committee should note that in constructing its bear management policy, the Board of Game has already included most of the methods and means included in the sponsor substitute as potential ways to implement a bear reduction program. Methods and means included in the sponsor substitute that are not already in the regulation could be referred to the board for its consideration in mounting future bear predation programs. Section 2 has two basic components, the first of which is to allow a qualified organization to accept donations of bear hides and skulls - auction or raffle those off and return at least 50 percent of the net proceeds to the fish and game fund, which is the state money that funds the Division of Wildlife Conservation's management programs. It's the only money we have to match federal monies that are available to us.... The only concern we have here is an administration overhead to process and work these hides through some sort of a system of raffles or sales or auctions. We can make that work. I do have one request, though, and that is that the department be given the discretion to accept hides, because from our experience with dealing with defense of life and property hides or other types of bear hides that we come in possession of through enforcement actions, for instance, we could run up some very large disposal fees in getting rid of hides that really aren't worth anything - because of the time of year they are taken or the hair has slipped or whatever. So, we would appreciate some discretion there in picking ones that are worth taking through the sale process.... That concludes my testimony and would try to answer any questions the committee has. SENATOR SEEKINS pointed out that section 2 says the department "may" accept a donation, not "shall". MR. ROBUS replied, "The intent is noted and appreciated." SENATOR SEEKINS asked if there was anything in Alaska law that would keep him from selling a bear skin from Alaska in Washington. MR. ROBUS said he knew that was allowed in the state of Montana. Once the hide gets out of state, he turns that situation over to enforcement people. SENATOR SEEKINS said he is trying to allow the sale of those things in the state on somewhat the same basis that they are sold outside the state - to provide some means of revenue. LIEUTENANT GARY FOLGER, Alaska State Troopers, said troopers don't have jurisdiction over those actions, but if that is the Legislature's intent, it could be addressed instate. SENATOR SEEKINS agreed that the title change would be appropriate because he wants it to be a bear predation management bill. He asked if the training course would be a Board of Game decision. MR. ROBUS answered that he mentioned it as a potential condition of the permit, which he thought was within his division's authority. "It would be something we would discuss with the board before we implemented it." SENATOR SEEKINS said it wasn't the intent of the Legislature to allow a permit that would be authorized by the Board of Game to have administrative discretion attached to it. He didn't have a problem with people who have never hunted big game being required to take a safety course. Some states require it to hunt any game. CHAIR OGAN noted that bow hunters have to be certified by statute. MR. ROBUS replied that he thought that requirement was associated with a Board of Game regulation. In reference to Senator Seekins' comment, he could also think of moose permits for an antler-restricted hunt where people are required to watch a short movie clip on distinguishing a legal moose from an illegal moose. I believe that is done under our discretionary authority, which is given to us in regulation.... There are several examples where, as part of a permit process, you're required to upload some information before going in the field. SENATOR SEEKINS said he didn't have a problem with there being reasonable training or a safety course provided that it's readily available. Since he couldn't find that authority in statute, he thought the Board of Game gave him that authority. MR. ROBUS assured him if he was given one or more of those programs to run, he would figure out ways to provide what is necessary to people who were willing to provide the extra harvest pressure on a population the board had designated to be reduced. "I think we're fairly successful in providing the types of training I mentioned earlier...." SENATOR SEEKINS said he would be very reluctant if the department with its permit issuing process would be able to trump a decision made by either the Legislature or the Board of Game to implement a predator control program. "That's my concern." He asked Mr. Robus why the board hadn't come up with a bear predation program before their last meeting in March." MR. ROBUS replied: My perception is that for years we and the board have been involved in trying to get appropriate wolf predation control started - when we had a fairly wholesale change. A large portion of the board changed soon after this administration came on board. At the spring meeting in '03, some of the members approached us, on the record, asked us to start putting together some sort of bear predation approach. That resulted in us putting a draft before them at the next board meeting in November and they asked for it to be on the agenda this spring so they could take action. So, it took a year. Why it didn't happen prior to that is probably a combination of it not being as high a priority for the previous board. That previous board and we were fully involved, in addition to managing all the hunts around the state, were trying to get 19D started. That was the primary effort and in the wake of that, Unit 13. SENATOR SEEKINS asked how soon the board, under the department's bear management policy would be able to consider implementation of a bear predation management plan in Unit 13. MR. ROBUS replied the next regular meeting for the Southcentral region occurs next March and it would require that some findings be made. Those findings could be put on the November agenda. If something were put on the books at the March meeting, it could be implemented on July 1, when regulations are normally implemented. SENATOR SEEKINS bemoaned the fact that two fall hunting seasons would be lost before anything would be done. MR. ROBUS said that is correct unless emergency measures are taken. SENATOR SEEKINS asked if other areas where bears are an emerging problem would have to go through the intensive management process and then go through the bear management process. MR. ROBUS replied that the intensive management process has already been gone through statewide up to a certain point. We've got about six predation management plans already in effect in regulation with primarily aimed at wolves, but where bears could certainly be spliced in relatively easily. Yes, normally you go around the two-year cycle that's presently in effect for board meetings and new areas would be added or areas taken off the books at those meetings unless some sort of special action was taken by the board. SENATOR SEEKINS surmised that it could take up to four years to get a bear management plan in effect. MR. ROBUS replied that is correct. However, a recent survey in unit 13 indicates that liberalized hunting regulations there may have had an effect. We're seeing lower bear densities out there in our surveys. We're going to be doing more work in the next month - surveying bear there with the latest technique that we have. Yes, the bear predation management timeline is off in the future. I can say it's not like no progress has been made in 13. It looks like we may have reduced brown bear densities there. SENATOR SEEKINS noted that Mr. Robus was monitoring the process and asked if he recalled what the dot points were for revising methods and means. MR. ROBUS replied: I was not there at the meeting during the final iteration of that. I know that a pool of methods and means that could be used was either specifically included at the bottom of that document or was referenced and included in the array of things from same day airborne access, which is in your sponsor substitute here, use of vehicles, baiting. There was a whole variety and it was not meant to be a closed box. It was a starting list of things that could be used depending on what was appropriate and effective in the situation. If and when it was determined by the board that either black or brown bear populations needed to be reduced. SENATOR SEEKINS asked if the department made recommendations to the board on unit 13, would it pick out a couple of methods and wait for two years to see what happens or would it advise using all of the methods at once - to solve the problem expeditiously. SENATOR BEN STEVENS arrived at 5:15 p.m. MR. ROBUS replied: I think it's only honest to say that the department and the board have spirited discussion sometimes from different points of view and while both the board and department are interested in getting into solving some of these problems, we are highly aware of the fact that whatever we mount, it needs to be a sustainable program - because these ungulate populations didn't get into the situations they are in instantly - and it's going to take more than an instant for things to return to a higher abundance - and we may urge some caution in these situations and it may be related to a particular technique. It may regard which area or the extent of the area. When that happens, it's going to basically be a judgment on how can we proceed with a program that's effective while not going so far and in a manner that might cause the whole thing to come to a halt. As I say, it may be judgment - there may be differences of opinion. SENATOR SEEKINS said the reason he asked that question is because it's been his experience that a solution is applied slowly and, as a result, ineffectively. He wanted to hear specifics on methods and means. CHAIR OGAN said he was concerned about the Legislature setting methods and means. I agree we need to strike the bear control permits with bear predation management and I think we should work on some methods and means - maybe giving express authority for methods and means - require them to consider alternative methods and means beyond normal or standard hunting practices including, but not limited to, same day airborne, because that's probably one of the most effective ways....to hunt. SENATOR SEEKINS said he wanted to solve the problem and if nothing else, this bill has moved the board toward a comprehensive bear management plan. We didn't have that before in the State of Alaska.... That alone makes me very pleased.... Secondly, there are some things that absolutely have to be changed in statute if we're going to be able to address getting more hunters into the field. Because we have statutes that prohibit things, now we have to loosen those statutes.... I think, as Mr. Robus has suggested, that a safety training course for someone in these paragraphs that loosen up their ability to be able to participate in this bear predation management plan is a worthwhile suggestion.... I think beyond that if this committee believes that it may be wise for the time being to allow some discretion on the Board of Game to be able to implement methods and means over and above the ordinary, I have no objection to that. CHAIR OGAN asserted that, "shall" should be used instead of "will" to "incorporate methods and means beyond seasons and bag limits." SENATOR SEEKINS agreed that it shouldn't be a regular hunting license or tag and that there should be a ceiling fee that goes along with this type of program. He wouldn't change anything in (e) or (k). He had no problem with eliminating (f), (g) and (i) as long as he felt comfortable that those would be methods and means that would be considered by the Board of Game. CHAIR OGAN said they would continue to work on this issue and adjourned the meeting at 5:30 p.m.