Missions of departments of Fish and Game, Natural Resources in conflict

Executive order raises concerns

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2003

I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: I am a strong supporter of developing Alaska's resources. A reasonable way out of our current fiscal difficulty is by developing our natural resources.

However, I also think it is important to protect our environment.

Combining duties of the Division of Habitat and Restoration with the Department of Natural Resources is not the way to ensure that both of these critical government functions are properly carried out.

The governor has indicated that one of the purposes of Executive Order 107 is to "streamline" the permitting process. I understand his desire to accomplish this, and, in fact, I strongly support government consolidation and efficiencies.

However, at issue are the basic functions or duties of the departments.

The main mission for the Department of Fish and Game is to "manage, protect, maintain and improve the fish, game and aquatic plant resources of Alaska." The main mission of the Department of Natural Resources is to "develop our natural resources." These are contradicting missions.

Alaskans are voicing their concern that habitat protection and resource development will conflict at some point. By placing the Division of Habitat duties in the Department of Natural Resources, resource development will have priority. Currently, there is a level of comfort in knowing that there is a separation of powers.

If Executive Order 107 is enacted, some have said it would be like the fox watching the hen house.

Although I am in favor of developing our resources and in making the process as efficient as possible, I do not believe that Executive Order 107 is the proper way to go about this. Problems with the Division of Habitat and Restoration should be fixable by management changes within the department.

Finally, the process being established with Executive Order 107 places the ultimate authority for decisions with the deputy commissioner. I am particularly concerned with this process because there is no direct link between that authority and the public. The commissioner is appointed by the elected governor and is subject to ratification by the elected Legislature. The deputy commissioner has no such "elected" official review and approval.

Frankly, I anticipate that my position is the minority one in the Legislature I don't expect that the Executive Order will be overturned by a majority of the Senate and House.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, represents District Q in the state Senate. He is the chair of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee and the vice chair of the Senate Resources Committee.

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