Legislature(1997 - 1998)
01/30/1997 01:07 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 26 - BIG GAME TAGS FOR WOLVES Number 1556 CO-CHAIRMAN HUDSON announced the next order of business was House Bill No. 26, "An Act relating to big game tags for wolves; and providing for an effective date." He called on Co-Chairman Ogan to present the bill. Number 1583 CO-CHAIRMAN OGAN, sponsor of HB 26, noted that it had been previously scheduled but not heard. He explained the bill, saying, "What it does is it lowers the price of a nonresident and nonresident alien wolf tag from $175 for a nonresident to $30, and from $250 for a nonresident alien to $50." He advised that a nonresident alien was someone from out of the country. Number 1610 CO-CHAIRMAN OGAN stated, "I would like to see more people, especially nonresident hunters who traditionally hunt with a guide, in the field with wolf tags. This gives the Board of Game the ability to set the seasons and bag limits, and if there's an area where the Board of Game and the Department of Fish and Game have identified ... that needs to be intensively managed, there'll be more opportunity for these incidental takes of wolves and give a little bit of a tool to be able to manage the resource a little bit more proactively." CO-CHAIRMAN OGAN said HB 26 would provide more fair-chase hunting opportunities. "I believe it's necessary in light of the recent initiative that was passed on wolves, that the department's hands are further tied to intensively manage," he concluded. CO-CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked if there were questions from the committee. He called on Michele Drummond to come forward and testify. Number 1666 MICHELE DRUMMOND, Volunteer, Alaska Environmental Lobby, testified in opposition to HB 26, indicating she also spoke as a field biologist with six years' experience working in the commercial fishing industry. "The Alaska Environmental Lobby does not support HB 26 because it calls for the reduction of tag fees for nonresidents," she explained. "We believe that out-of-state hunters should continue to pay higher prices for the ability to hunt game, which they can't do in other states. It's something that's only available in Alaska." MS. DRUMMOND indicated there were few sightings of wolves. She believed the incidental take of wolves would not necessarily increase just because more tags were being issued. "It seems that this bill continues to persecute wolves as a `bad species' because they tend to compete with humans for the caribou and moose populations, and the hunting tool as a wildlife management tool is not necessarily a viable way to manage the wildlife stocks," she concluded. Number 1756 REPRESENTATIVE IRENE NICHOLIA asked Ms. Drummond, "Have you ever been out to the rural area where the people ... are experiencing problems with a large decline in the moose populations and evidence that there are a lot of moose being taken by wolves?" MS. DRUMMOND replied she had not. Number 1779 REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN inquired whether Ms. Drummond was aware that HB 26 referred only to areas designated a critical problem with wolf kill, not statewide. MS. DRUMMOND said yes. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked how Ms. Drummond would manage the overpopulation of wolves in those areas. Number 1802 MS. DRUMMOND replied, "I couldn't give you a proper response on that at the moment. I could research it and get back with you." Number 1817 WAYNE REGELIN, Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, Department of Fish and Game, testified in support of HB 26. He believed Alaska's wolf population was currently underutilized and could sustain a higher harvest level. He stated, "It's about 15 percent across the state right now, and the population can withstand 30 percent harvest rates without causing any problems. We think a reduction in fees for nonresident hunters may encourage more nonresident hunters to purchase a wolf tag and increase the harvest of wolves." MR. REGELIN said in the areas with too many wolves, designated by the Board of Game for intensive management, the fee would be waived. He explained, "Right now very few nonresidents purchase wolf tags. ... In 1995, only 237 nonresidents and, I think, 35 nonresident aliens purchased wolf tags out of about almost 11,000 nonresident hunters. So I think that a reduction in the fees may very well encourage more people to harvest wolves." Mr. Regelin concluded by restating the department's support of HB 26. Number 1899 CO-CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked, "[I]f you didn't have this type of a management tool - and of course the general public passed the initiative to halt the fly-and-shoot type of situation - what's your assessment of your ability to control these predator populations?" Number 1919 MR. REGELIN replied that it would be difficult in areas with severe predator problems. "And this probably won't help," he admitted. "But it won't hurt, and it will help in other places and provide a lot more opportunity ... to harvest a resource that's currently underharvested. But in the areas where we have a very severe predator problem, this isn't going to be a lot of help." He said in those areas, more wolves would need to be harvested than would occur through hunting. Number 1946 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said, "Let's assume that this is effective and that in certain areas that are certainly in need of `de-wolfing,' if you will, do you see the fact that there would be more alien nonresident hunters in any area like that? As you indicated it probably won't be a major help, do you see it as being a hindrance? Is there a safety hazard that this could create, or is there any negative to this?" Number 1973 MR. REGELIN did not see any negatives to it. He mentioned nonresidents who come to Alaska to hunt sheep, bear, moose or caribou. With the tag fee at $175, many people did not buy a tag. "At $30, I think more will," he explained. "I don't think it will increase the number of hunters that we have or cause any kind of problems. I think that it ... might increase the harvest of wolves. It will certainly give them more opportunity, and we're in the opportunity business." Number 1996 CO-CHAIRMAN OGAN asked Mr. Regelin to address the board process, including how season bag limits were set and how wolf harvest was controlled. MR. REGELIN explained, "The legislature must set license fees and tag fees. The Board of Game can't do that. But the Board of Game then sets bag limits, seasons, and methods and means. So if there's a problem in a certain area, the board can reduce the bag limit, reduce the season for hunting and trapping. Right now, in many areas, we ... open the wolf season for hunting at the same time other big game species open, so that people have an opportunity to take a wolf if they want to." MR. REGELIN continued: "Most of our wolf harvest occurs during the winter by trappers that are doing it to make money. ... A ten-year average of the wolf harvest in Alaska is 1107, and ... each wolf pelt is worth about $300, so it's a significant amount of money, especially in rural areas where there's very little opportunity to make money. And we manage trapping ... through season dates and lengths, not through bag limits, because a trapper putting out a trap line doesn't know exactly how many he'll catch." Mr. Regelin indicated Alaska's wolf population was abundant and healthy, with 7,000 - 10,000 wolves, up significantly from ten years before. "They're managed well, most places," he concluded. Number 2081 CO-CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked if there were further questions or whether anyone on teleconference wished to testify. He stated his intention of moving the bill. Number 2107 REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA made a motion that HB 26 move from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Number 2117 CO-CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked if there were objections. Hearing none, Co-Chairman Hudson advised that HB 26 was moved from the House Resources Standing Committee.