Legislature rejects wildlife photographer for Board of Game

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Legislature rejected Gov. Tony Knowles appointment of a wildlife photographer to the state Board of Game on Wednesday despite calls for diversity among the panel.

At a joint session, pro-hunting lawmakers voted 48-9 to keep Leo Keeler off the board. The vote was 17-2 among senators and 31-7 by House members.

Just one Republican, Anchorage Rep. Con Bunde, supported Keeler. Every Bush Democrat voted to reject him.

Knowles said Keeler was an open-minded Alaskan who is exactly the type of person needed to give breadth and depth to decisions. Knowles said Keeler would have joined hunters, big-game guides and subsistence users he has appointed and that legislators showed unprecedented disrespect by not allowing Keeler to defend his nomination in person.

''It sends a clear message that if you don't agree with their narrow view, you can't serve,'' Knowles said.

The seven-member board makes decisions on bag limits, seasons and restricted areas for hunters and is probably most controversial when it considers predator control measures to boost game populations.

Legislators honed in on Keeler's past statements knocking hunting groups and his reluctance to support predator control, especially killing wolves, without broad public support. Keeler also has pushed for a buffer zone on state-managed land outside of Denali Park to protect park wolves that stray beyond boundaries.

Rep. Beverly Masek, R-Willow, said an area the size of Texas in Alaska is already shut off to hunting and trapping and that Keeler supports more.

''He's jeopardizing the use of wildlife for human use, including subsistence,'' Masek said.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, tied his opposition to Keeler's statements on wolf control.

''We do have a problem with predators in Alaska,'' Kelly said. ''I think it's a crisis, actually. The governor has let it slip. He inherited a small problem and let it turn into a huge problem.

Kelly said the state needs Board of Game members who will take action and manage for sustained yield. Kelly said both Knowles and Keeler advocate too many conditions that are not in state law or the constitution before moving forward with predator control.

''It's really not their duty to be weighing public opinion,'' Kelly said. ''That's our job.''

Rep. Ben Grussendorf, D-Sitka, said he had not even received the Resource Committee report before he was being asked to vote. From a radio story, he said, he learned that Keeler would support wolf control at McGrath if hunting were limited to local residents and if the board removing bear predators that kill the most moose calves, perhaps through a trophy hunt.

Grussendorf said that did not sound like a person who was opposed to subsistence hunting.

''What he brings to the board is a different perspective,'' said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

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