A rule prohibiting hunters from using airplanes to search for sheep in Alaska will remain on the books despite a concerted effort to repeal it this week during Alaska Board of Game meetings at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.
The Board of Game voted 4-3 Tuesday afternoon to reject a proposal to rescind the rule that the board passed in March 2015.
The board created the new rule last year in response to complaints from sheep hunters about too many hunters crowding into the mountains. In particular, the board members highlighted disapproval of airplane scouting as a hunting technique in a 2014 board-commissioned survey of sheep hunters.
The board previously voted against repealing the new rule at special meeting in May.
The sheep-spotting rule has attracted vocal opposition from influential groups, including six of the eight regional fish and game advisory committees that took a stance on the issue and the Alaska Airmen’s Association, a general aviation group with 2,400 members. Opponents argue the rule will be difficult to enforce and will cause pilots to take dangerous maneuvers to avoid the perception that they’re spotting for sheep.
Most notably, the law enforcement agency in charge of enforcing the rule opposed it.
“The Alaska wildlife Troopers would need to show evidentiary proof an individual specifically used an aircraft to spot sheep and then landed and took the same Dall sheep,” the agency wrote its formal comments. “This regulation, as it is written, is extremely hard to prosecute.”
The new rule wasn’t a major source of complaints in the 2015 hunting season. Wildlife troopers received one complaint about spotting for sheep in 2015 and determined it was unfounded, the agency reported.
Tuesday’s 4-3 vote was closer than the 6-1 vote that approved the new rule in March 2015.
“Yes” votes in favor of the repeal this week came from Tok board member Teresa Sager Albaugh, Palmer board member Pete Probasco and newly appointed board member Kip Fanning of Yakutat.
Voting “no” were Stosh Hoffman of Bethel, Interior board member Nate Turner, Wrangell board member David Brown and Chairman Ted Spraker of Soldotna.
“I don’t like to put something in place and then jerk it out a year later. You don’t get anything from that,” Hoffman said.
Spraker said he often gets questions about whether it’s now illegal for hunters to shoot sheep they happen to see while flying into or out of hunting camps. That remains legal, he said. The board wrote a “findings of fact” document last week that clarifies that the intent is only to stop pilots from deliberately spotting for sheep.
In addition to rejecting the full-on repeal, the board also voted against proposals to soften the language of the aerial spotting ban. By a 5-2 vote the board rejected a proposal from the Alaska Professional Hunters Association that would have replaced the regulation with language that prohibited pilots from making “consecutive passes” toward sheep.
Monday was the fourth day in a 10-day Alaska Board of Game meeting in Fairbanks about statewide hunting and trapping regulations. The meeting continues at 8:30 a.m. today. Audio from the meeting is being streamed online at 1.usa.gov/1DLI38p.
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