FAIRBANKS — A bill that would require Alaska’s Board of Game to restrict nonresident hunting opportunities in times of shortage before restricting residents had a hearing in the Alaska state senate last week.
North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill sponsored the bill, Senate Bill 87. But he hasn’t advocated for the proposed law change, instead saying Wednesday that he brought it up to allow for a debate about the issue.
“I’ve tried to be as even-handed as I can, but I said I would put this on the table so we, as a legislature, could hear what that discussion without vitriol, without phone calls, without emails,” he said.
Coghill invited two speakers on either side of the issue to a one-hour hearing in the Senate Resources Committee, of which he is the vice chair.
The Fairbanks-based group Resident Hunters of Alaska, which bills itself as an organization “unapologetically for Alaska residents,” asked the legislature to introduce and pass the bill. The bill would change one word, “may” into “shall” in an existing law that reads:
“Whenever it is necessary to restrict the taking of big game so that the opportunity for state residents to take big game can be reasonably satisfied in accordance with sustained yield principles, the Board of Game may through a permit system, limit the taking of big game by nonresidents and nonresident aliens to accomplish that purpose.”
Resident Hunters of Alaska Executive Director Mark Richards testified that if this law had been in place last year, nonresidents wouldn’t have taken such a large share of the Central Arctic Caribou Herd harvest.
A representative from the Alaskan Bowhunters Association also testified in favor of the bill.
Testimony against SB87 came from the leader of the Alaska Outdoor Council, which represents a large consortium of hunting and fishing organizations in Alaska.
Rod Arno, the council director, said delegates at the council’s annual meeting in Fairbanks last week voted in opposition to SB87.
Arno said the proposed law was unnecessary because Alaskans already have hunting opportunities in times of shortage not available to nonresidents through the resident-only subsistence system.
He also argued against further restrictions to nonresident hunters because they pay high license and tag fees that finance most of the state’s wildlife management budget.
“Reserving a portion of high-quality game to help pay for management benefits all Alaskans. And since I’ve been paying attention to the board process in the early 80s, the number of nonresidents hasn’t fluctuated much,” Arno said.
Leaders of the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, a trade organization of hunting guides, also came to testify against the bill.
SB87 doesn’t have any additional hearings scheduled.
Richards said in a phone interview on Friday he doesn’t expect the legislature will take further action on it this session.
“This was always going to be a two-year process,” he said.
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.
Clarification: Saturday's article "Bill to restrict nonresident hunter opportunities in Alaska gets hearing" listed only three of the four organizations that were invited to testify about the bill. The Alaskan Bowhunters Association voiced support for the bill in addition to Resident Hunters of Alaska. The Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association opposed the bill.