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Board appointments put special interests, politics over people What others say

Posted: Monday, January 27, 2003

Hunting and trapping are an important part of Alaska's heritage. While there are organizations and individuals who would dispute the value of these activities, they are distinctly Alaskan and undeniably worthy of defense as both a rural lifestyle choice and a recreational endeavor.

That said, Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointments ... to the state Board of Game raise serious questions about the mind-set of the governor and his interest in a board that will speak and act for all Alaskans, not just a limited special interest.

Of the six appointees to the seven-member board, four have ties to the Alaska Outdoor Council, a big supporter of the Murkowski campaign and a hardcore advocacy group for hunters and trappers that is interested in maximum management of game for consumptive purposes. The remaining two appointees are wildlife biologists who also support game management strategy favoring hunters first.

This is not to say that hunting interests should not be represented on the board. But there are many people in this state who enjoy the wildness of Alaska who may have different points of view about how best to use and enjoy that wildness.

There is something singularly undemocratic, then, about a regulatory authority constitutionally charged with passing regulations "to conserve and develop" Alaska's wildlife resources that is comprised entirely of hunters -- as if the state's game resources were their exclusive domain.

According to state Department of Fish and Game licensing statistics, 91,502 Alaska residents purchased a hunting or trapping license in 2002. In a state of some 635,000 people, this amounts to about 14.4 percent of the general population.

So who will speak for nonhunters and folks who believe that the state's game resources should be managed in a way that can accommodate both consumptive and nonconsumptive uses?

Supporters of the status quo would have us believe that the mechanism is in place already to ensure that all Alaskans retain a voice in game management. But that mechanism -- testimony before the state's Board of

Game -- could never be viewed rationally as a fair tradeoff when the board's makeup is considered. Factor in the disputes over "sustainable harvest" numbers, which some experts say are dangerously inflated in order to justify predator control, and the inequity becomes even more pronounced.

Also lacking on the new Board of Game is a viable rural or Native voice. Only one member, Michael Fleagle, is from rural Alaska. But he's from McGrath, a hotbed of predator-control sympathizers, and can hardly be expected to offer anything approximating a rational voice to lead the

state to a resolution of its subsistence hunting issues.

As for predator control as a general concept, it can sometimes be a useful prescription for wise management of the resource. But left in the hands of this board, whose primary interest is in accommodating anyone who wants to put a moose in their freezer, predator control is bad medicine. It is disrespectful to the land, the resource and the cycles of nature.

And it is a subject of which voters have expressed unqualified disapproval twice in the last eight years, only to have their will subverted by a legislature catering to a minority special interest.

We hope this round of appointments does not set the tone for the rest of the Murkowski tenure. He was elected by a broad spectrum of Alaskans, to whom he must remain accountable. To allow an interest group representing

less than 15 percent of the state's population to decide wildlife management policy for the other 85 percent is just plain wrong.

--Homer News - Jan. 23



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