ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The main state agency charged with protecting fish and wildlife habitat will lose 22 jobs under a reorganization plan by Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Layoff notices at the Habitat Division went out Friday to biologists, supervisors and clerical staff in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. The jobs are slated to be cut May 1.
Besides the layoffs, 36 Habitat employees were told they will be transferred to the Department of Natural Resources, where they will handle permitting for development affecting fish. The remaining Habitat staff would shift to other sections of the Department of Fish and Game and the division would cease to exist.
The reorganization comes under an executive order Murkowski issued last month that takes effect April 15, unless the Legislature overturns it.
Murkowski said habitat biologists have stymied development too often and that with Natural Resources in charge, the permitting process will be more efficient.
The biologists say they're being unfairly singled out and that the firings and transfers amount to political retribution for having done their jobs in protecting the environment.
Despite sharp criticism from Habitat employees, their boss on Friday defended the governor's action. His department needs to move forward and put the changes in place and not look back, said acting Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy.
Under the governor's executive order, the Fish and Game commissioner will lose his legal authority over fish habitat protection for the first time since statehood in 1959. The power to say yes or no to a development project that affects salmon or other fish would shift to the commissioner of Natural Resources.
While the commissioners spoke in Juneau, regional supervisor Lance Trasky was handing out layoff notices to his staff in Anchorage. Trasky, who is also being let go after three decades at Fish and Game, said the mood was grim but that people were more concerned about the public resources they manage than about losing their employment.
''I feel pretty bad. Not so much about closing the door on a 30-year career, but taking this authority away from Fish and Game and giving it to DNR does not bode well for the fish and wildlife of this state in the long-term,'' Trasky said.
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