Yesterday, a Superior Court judge in Alaska ruled in favor of the Alaska Board of Game in a case challenging the allocation of bear hunting tags on Kodiak Island to residents and non-residents. The ruling was based in part on an amicus brief filed by a coalition which includes SCI, SCI’s Alaska Chapter, and the Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC). The judge’s ruling is a win for Alaskan hunters, non-resident hunters, and wildlife conservation across the state.
Approximately two-thirds of Kodiak brown bear tags are allocated to residents through a lottery system. After not being drawn in the lottery, an Alaskan resident hunter submitted a proposal to the state Board of Game to change the allocation of tags. He sued the Board after the proposal was rejected following public comment and discussion. The plaintiff claimed the current tag system is unconstitutional and unfair to residents, especially those who do not get drawn in the lottery, because out of state hunters are nearly guaranteed a tag through booking a hunt with a guide. Resident Hunters of Alaska (RHAK) submitted an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the suit. SCI’s Alaska Chapter, AOC, and the SCI national organization opposed the suit, offering the views of resident Alaskans who do not think of non-residents as enemies, but rather as partners in wildlife management. The Alaska Professional Hunters Association (APHA) also submitted amicus briefing in support of the state Board of Game.
Collectively, the SCI Alaska Chapter and AOC represent over 11,000 Alaskan members and frequently fight for the rights of resident hunters and Alaska’s wildlife. The SCI Alaska Chapter and AOC support the current system as it represents the needs of Alaskans and wildlife, generates high revenues from non-resident participation, and maintains accessibility for Alaska residents.
Many Alaskans may be unaware that non-resident hunting fees fund over 70% of the budget for the state’s Department of Fish and Game. While only one-third of Kodiak Island bear tags go to non-residents, they contribute almost $8 million in revenue – which is subject to a 3:1 federal match – compared to approximately $3 million from resident tag and license fees. Depending on the game, non-residents pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for a bear, moose, or muskox tags compared to fees in the tens of dollars for residents. For example, it is $25 to enter the lottery for a bear tag, whereas a non-resident pays $1,000. In short, the contributions of non-residents benefit both wildlife and resident hunters. SCI, the Alaska Chapter, and AOC explained these important contributions in the amicus brief. SCI and its partners explained that reducing the number of non-resident tags to 10% or less, as the plaintiff proposed, will cause resident tag prices to increase to make up for lost revenue, thus reducing access and damaging resident hunters. And the lower tag fees paid by resident hunters means less funding available for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to invest in the conservation of Alaska’s wildlife.
As the court found, the plaintiff’s lawsuit argued an incorrect reading of the Alaska Constitution, which would create an unqualified preference for resident hunters – at the expense of other residents and resident hunting guides. The Alaska Constitution was meant to benefit hunters and non-hunters alike. Non-resident hunters contribute substantially to the state’s resources. In addition to the funding provided to the Department of Fish and Game, non-resident hunters boost local economies by using resident guides and outfitters, and they play an important role in wildlife management. Guided hunting is the second oldest profession in Alaska, and the drafters of the state Constitution were not blind to these benefits.
Most Alaska hunters support the participation of out of state hunters. They do not take the protectionist position of RHAK. And the SCI Alaska Chapter and AOC have voiced the concerns of most Alaska hunters, who opposed this lawsuit, which would significantly impair the hunting and wildlife management process in the state.
Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of the current system of hunting and conservation. Frustration over not being drawn for a bear tag is understandable, but changing the system to damage Alaskans and wildlife is not. SCI is celebrating this win in Alaska as we always stand First for Hunters!