Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/14/2004 03:30 PM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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,                                                               
     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                                                                    
     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                                                                    
     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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                                    
     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                                                               
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.                                                                                              

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