Managing Alaska's fish and game takes a special blend of biological training, field expertise and skin thick enough to bear the inevitable abuse.
Whether the subject is moose, caribou, bears, wolves, sheep or deer, to name but a few species, opinions often differ regarding the presence of a population abundance or scarcity. The vitality of local salmon runs and/or factors influencing them is another source of perennial topic. It's a safe bet any decision affecting harvests will draw ardent feedback as to the optimum hunting seasons and bag limits, or fishing openings and closures. For surely there are few, if any, areas of government activity that Alaskans are quicker to second guess, generally criticize and, of course, suggest a need for immediate, often radical, shifts in the state's overall approach.
We Alaskans, by and large, take keen personal interest in the state's wise stewardship of fish, wildlife and other renewable resources. And this is no passing fancy. Recognizing the priority these issues command in every region, village or port, the authors of Alaska's Constitution took the unusual step of stipulating the policy goal of providing ''sustained yield'' in this state's founding set of principles.
The mandate is spelled out in Article VIII, Sec. 4, of Alaska's Constitution: ''Fish, forests, wildlife, grasslands and all other replenishable resources belonging to the State shall be utilized, developed and maintained according to the sustained yield principle, subject to preferences among beneficial uses.''
All of this serves to explain why appointees to the boards setting management policies in fish and game are subject to legislative scrutiny. It's a measure of what Alaskan's care about that appointees face hard questions about their professional training, relevant affiliations, field expertise, public record and, yes, personal philosophy.
In recent years, the path to confirmation or rejection of Gov. Tony Knowles appointments to the Board of Game has turned into a debate over the board's direction.
The governor maintains that popular support for wolf control and other controversial wildlife management techniques could be broadened by a Game Board that, in addition to valuing hunting, might give more consideration to management aimed at enhancing wildlife viewing, photography opportunities, and other ''non-consumptive uses.''
Lawmakers averse to this tourism-friendly interpretation to our constitution's ''sustained yield'' mandate have repeatedly banded together to foil the governor's open bid to broaden the Game Board's mission.
The News-Miner calls upon lawmakers to hold firm in this regard and block confirmation of two of the governor's three pending Game Board appointments.
Former House Speaker Ben Grussendorf has a long and distinguished record of public service to Alaska. His legislative voting record nonetheless reveals persistent and determined resistance to former Sen. Bert Sharp's predator control initiatives. Furthermore, we are concerned by the priorities apparent in Grussendorf's 1991 legislation establishing the McNeil River State Game Refuge. His original bill would have ruled out brown bear hunting in the refuge, without any study or evidence of biological need. While the final bill restored the Game Board's authority in this area, the former lawmaker's opposition to that change demonstrated a disturbing lack of faith in the management board process.
We call upon lawmakers to reward the esteemed former Speaker's civic contributions by leaving him free to enjoy pleasant retirement in Sitka. Spare a fellow colleague the thankless aggravations of a Game Board seat.
Chip Dennerlein's affiliations with the National Parks and Conservation Association, an organization with a history of favoring restrictions on hunting, trapping and public access in the Denali Park area, are enough to cast grave doubt on his own suitability.
We encourage lawmakers to send both of these appointees packing.
The biological expertise of Julie Maier, the governor's remaining appointment is unquestioned. As a wildlife biologist at UAF's Institute for Arctic Biology, Maier is well no doubt prepared to apply sound scientific principles in the Game Board's policy making.
However, the Alaska Outdoor Council, among others, has faulted Maier's relative lack of experience in game management. Critics were further disturbed by some of her votes at the board's March meeting.
To her credit, Maier subsequently took time to attend several meetings of Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, where she fielded questions about her board votes and offered assurances that her management decisions will be based on biology.
Those discussions persuaded the Fairbanks Advisory Council to drop its opposition to her appointment.
''We believe that Dr. Maier has defended her background and voting record admirably and has shown many previous concerns about her to be unfounded,'' Mike Kramer wrote lawmakers earlier this month. ''The FAC supports (Game) Board members who are independent of the executive branch, who base their decisions of biology, and who respect the rights of consumptive users in this state. We endorse Julie Maier's confirmation.''
The News-Miner seconds that endorsement.
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