March 5, 2003, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on governor's game management stand

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

Two recent actions point to confusion in the game management philosophy in the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Murkowski, in his campaign for governor last year, said he would actively manage the state's wildlife with the aim of creating abundant populations. He criticized then-Gov. Tony Knowles, who refused to implement two predator-control programs authorized by the state Board of Game, for allowing some wildlife populations to fall to ''deplorably low levels.'' Seemingly ready to begin a new style of game management, the new governor appointed six Board of Game members who share his thinking.

A plan to implement one of those two predator programs, to boost moose numbers in the McGrath area by reducing wolf and bear numbers, is being considered by the new board.

But implementing the other program, to boost moose numbers in the Nelchina Basin in a similar manner to the McGrath program, has an unexpectedly long way to go due to a troubling action by the governor's own Department of Fish and Game.

The department recently opted to embark on a lengthy public comment period for the Nelchina predator-removal effort, beginning by mailing out 2,600 surveys, half of them to residents outside the Nelchina area and so distant as to include five households in Unalaska, in the Aleutian Islands. And this is just the first phase in a four-phase plan that could stretch beyond 2004.

That harkens back to the exceptionally slow approach of the preceding administration, which dug in against predator control and sent the issue off to a special panel for further review. It's not the approach we had expected from Gov. Murkowski.

So what's behind the administration's dueling messages?

It could be the vacancies at the top of the Department of Fish and Game.

The department still does not have a permanent commissioner since the Board of Game and the Board of Fish have yet to agree on nominations to forward to the governor. Nor does the department have its two deputy commissioners, one who oversees game issues and the other who oversees fisheries matters.

These empty chairs need to be filled soon so that the governor can have the leadership he needs from his department. The two boards should resolve their differences soon and forward nominations for commissioner.

Meanwhile, given the conflicting actions on predator control, Gov. Murkowski should clarify his position on game management. He can do this by ending the Department of Fish and Game's drawn-out four-phase public comment plan for the Nelchina Basin and seeking speedy public comment instead, and by instructing the department to begin predator control in that area soon after.

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