- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Feb. 16, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Once again, a misplaced effort surfaces to ‘protect’ wolves that roam outside park

It’s back. But common sense can prevent it from going anywhere.

It’s another proposal, introduced in the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, to encourage the establishment of a permanent wildlife buffer zone east of Denali National Park and Preserve.

House Concurrent Resolution 17, by Anchorage Democratic Rep. Any Josephson, would, if approved, request Gov. Sean Parnell to negotiate with the U.S. Department of the Interior to achieve the buffer zone through “the exchange of a state conservation easement in return for a transfer from the federal government of equal value in the form of an easement, other federal land, other interests in federal land, or compensation.”

The governor would be asked to report on the negotiations by July 1 of this year.

This is all about wolves and preventing the lawful trapping of them outside of Denali National Park’s boundaries.

Animals, as we all know, don’t recognize map boundaries in their wanderings. Near Denali, wolves roam ranges split by different governments with their own sets of hunting and trapping regulations.

The latest attempt in the long-running campaign by some to establish a buffer zone is likely the result, in part, of a well-publicized wolf trapping in the spring of 2012. A trapper legally caught the last remaining breeding female in the Grant Creek pack that established itself in the eastern boundary area outside the park. The pack consequently produced no pups and fell apart.

The void likely won’t remain for long. Wolves have high rates of reproduction, meaning populations recover quickly from loss. Young wolves grow and seek to establish their own territories.

The publicity given to the trapping of the breeding female, while noteworthy, actually can leave the wrong impression. It isn’t humans who are the greatest threat to wolves; rather, researchers have found that wolf mortality can be attributed generally to a host of other occurrences that nature throws at them: illness, parasites, accidents, starvation, injuries from moose and attacks by other wolves, especially those in rival packs.

HCR 17 makes a big leap where it says “the taking of wolves normally present in Denali National Park and Preserve when they cross the eastern boundary of the park onto state land contributes to the decline in the viewing of wolves in the park. .”

This misguided effort to re-establish the buffer zone that was removed by the Board of Game in a 4-3 vote in 2010 also found renewed life in a November report from the National Park Service that states that fewer visitors to Denali are seeing a wolf.

The report found that just 4 percent of the visitors who traveled the park road in shuttle buses in 2013 saw wolves. That’s down from 12 percent in 2012, 21 percent in 2011 and 44 percent in 2010.

The Park Service is trying to determine the reason. Part of that analysis must include a closer look at the numbers.

For example, while the percentage of wolf sightings by bus riders is reported as being down, the total number of bus riders increased by just more than 9 percent in the same period, to 283,239 in 2013 from 258,989 in 2010 - a difference of 24,250. As a general point, if the actual number of wolf sightings remained the same but bus ridership increased, then the percentage of riders seeing a wolf would decrease.

HCR 17 is also short on evidence when it states that “re-establishment of a no-take buffer of sufficient size will help reverse the decline in the viewing of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve and will help sustain and increase the visitor economy in Denali National Park and Preserve.”

What the proposed resolution does have is a lot of loose language.

Alaska doesn’t need a buffer zone east of Denali National Park. What we do need is a buffer zone against unnecessary actions driven by an emotional desire to “save” the wolves of the Denali region.


Feb. 15, 2014

Anchorage Daily News: Voucher bill belongs in education committee

The decision of Senate President Charlie Huggins to keep the question of a constitutional amendment about school funding away from the Senate Education Committee makes no sense.

Huggins’ call made no sense when he first made it in 2013, and makes even less now with the issue heating up again.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 would put before Alaska voters a constitutional amendment which would allow the appropriation of public money for private schools. That’s forbidden by the Alaska Constitution as written now.

There’s a disingenuous argument, repeated by Huggins, that this is a legal issue, not an education issue.

Alaskans know better. This proposed constitutional amendment is not some abstract exercise. Passage would open the door to public funds for private schools. Proponents argue that that’s all passage would do, and that Alaskans, through their elected representatives, would later decide whether, how, when and under what rules such funding would be provided.

In other words, don’t get too excited about the amendment.

Andrew Halcro, former state representative and current Anchorage Chamber of Commerce president, had it right when he said this would be the most profound change in Alaska educational policy since statehood.

Further, he pointed out the obvious — that the exclusion of the education committee looks like a political calculation meant to keep the amendment on the fast track. That’s because Sen. Gary Stevens chairs the education panel, and he’s a skeptic, with many questions he wants answered. He’d give SJR 9 a thorough vetting, and raise questions that some proponents say are premature.

We need the vetting and the questions — before the amendment goes to the voters. The notion that we are merely opening a door, as if we might not walk through it, is bogus. Proponents want that door open so they can gain public funding for private schools. Otherwise the amendment is pointless.

You don’t fast track a constitutional amendment, especially one that raises so many questions — legal, yes, but about the future of our schools and our students too.

Without thorough vetting, this amendment should never reach the Senate floor.

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