Former Fish and Game chiefs slam habitat division plan

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Five former commissioners of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are urging Gov. Frank Murkowski drop his plans to take away the power over development projects from the state fish and game habitat division.

''We share the belief that the loss of this authority will result in unnecessary and potentially irreversible harm to these resources that are critical to Alaska commercial, sport and subsistence users,'' the past commissioners wrote to the governor.

The five noted that they have a combined 30-plus years of experience managing Alaska's Department of Fish and Game.

''We served under Republican, Democratic and (Alaskan) Independence Party governors and we all agree that ADF&G must continue to be responsible for protecting the stream habitat of Alaska's salmon and trout,'' they wrote Murkowski in a letter Thursday.

The commissioners were Frank Rue, Carl Rosier, Don Collinsworth, Ron Skoog and James Brooks. They served under Govs. Tony Knowles, Wally Hickel, Steve Cowper, Bill Sheffield, Jay Hammond and William Egan.

Murkowski, a Republican who was elected in November, has not yet picked his own Fish and Game commissioner.

Moving the habitat division out of Fish and Game and over to the Department of Natural Resources was a central element in Murkowski's state of the state speech last week. He said the division has often opposed and delayed ''legitimate -- and I want to emphasize legitimate -- projects.''

Moving the habitat permit function to DNR would streamline the permitting process for oil and other resource companies, as well as other developers, he said.

Murkowski's spokesman, John Manly, said Friday that he did not think the governor has read the commissioners' letter. He said Murkowski is moving ahead with the habitat shift.

''We believe that we can move those permitting functions to the Department of Natural Resources without an adverse impact on the environment,'' Manly told the Anchorage Daily News.

While respecting the former commissioners, the new governor's team wants to try a new approach to boost economic development, he said.

''I think it is safe to say that what got (Murkowski) elected is his vision for spark-plugging and moving the Alaska economy,'' Manly said.

The former commissioners, in their letter, disputed the contention that Fish and Game has blocked development. The habitat division has worked cooperatively on projects, they said, while providing a habitat-protection balance to the work of the state natural resources agency.

''We do not think it is possible to replicate this capability within another agency and doing anything less will erode or destroy Alaska's capacity to aid development in ways that avoid or minimize threats to our fishery resources.''

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