One of the core constitutional duties of the Alaska Legislature is to manage our fish and game resources among many competing uses — subsistence and non-subsistence hunting and trapping; subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fishing; and recreational viewing. For the most part, the Alaska Legislature delegated these constitutional duties to the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game. This includes the decision to allow wolf hunting and trapping along side Denali National Park.
It has come to our attention that some question whether a so called “wolf buffer zone” by Denali, where wolf hunting and trapping would be prohibited, can be created outside of the legislative or Board of Game process. The answer is no.
The simplest and most effective way to re-establish a wolf buffer zone is through regulatory action by the board. We understand this has been tried on numerous occasions ever since the board removed the wolf buffer zone in 2010. Although it may be frustrating, absent legislation, the authority to establish a permanent wolf buffer zone lies solely within the authority of the board and no other department.
Since the ultimate constitutional authority for fish and game management lies with the Alaska Legislature, the legislature could always enact a law re-establishing a wolf buffer zone. Legislation to do just that was introduced in 2017, and the Department of Law saw no legal issues with the last version of that bill.
Some other options we’ve heard about would involve the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or some form of land exchange. Neither of these would really be able to create the buffer zone that’s desired. You have to remember that the State does not own all the land around Denali — some is owned by the Mental Health Trust Authority and some is owned by private individuals and municipalities. DNR only has authority over the state lands, which makes any sort of land exchange or creation of a new state park problematic. These options also fail to get over the main legal hurdle — the board, by delegation from the legislature, has management authority over wolves and all other wildlife across the entire state, with few exceptions. The most that could be accomplished through another method would be piecemeal, temporary, and legally suspect.
The purpose of this commentary is not to suggest which policy is better — buffer zone or no buffer zone. But we do think it’s important that the correct process is followed. We all live in Alaska in part because we love the outdoors and the abundant wildlife. Whether we hunt, fish, trap or just enjoy the scenery, we all want to make sure our fish and game management meets the constitutional requirements of sustained yield and maximum benefit for all. And there are plenty of opportunities before both the board and the legislature to have your voice heard and advocate for change in game management.
• Jahna Lindemuth is the Attorney General for the State of Alaska and Sam Cotten is Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.