ANCHORAGE (AP) No decision has been made to merge Fish and Wildlife Division state troopers with Alaska State Troopers, according to the Murkowski administration, but their uniforms are about to be the same color.
Once distinguished by their brown uniforms, the fish and wildlife troopers are going to blue. The uniform switch could take six months to complete, said Maj. Jim Cockrell, acting director of the state's 91 game wardens.
''There won't be much of a distinction except the trooper will be driving a Ford Crown Victoria and we'll be in a four-wheel drive,'' Cockrell said.
Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske also said the new uniforms do not mean the agency has reorganized and brought the former brown-shirts under command of the troopers.
''One's got nothing to do with the other,'' he said. The proposed reorganization, which some fear would reduce law enforcement in Alaska's fields and streams, is still under discussion.
''Everybody's got their specialty,'' Tandeske said of the two divisions. ''Moving to the blue uniform is not going to change what they do on a day-to-day basis.''
Fish and wildlife officers once were part of the Department of Fish and Game. A reorganization in the early 1970s brought them into the Department of Public Safety. Fish and Wildlife Protection and the troopers have been sister agencies ever since.
Almost from the beginning, public safety officials started bringing uniformity to the uniforms, said Cockrell.
The differing uniforms confused people, he said. The state wildlife agents were taken for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or confused with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
''We needed to get the fact recognized that we could arrest a drunk driver'' as well as a moose poacher, Cockrell said.
In much of rural Alaska, wildlife troopers are the sole representatives of the Department of Public Safety, he said. The decision to adopt the Alaska State Troopers' traditional blue shirts and pants had been discussed for more than two years, Cockrell said. No brown uniforms were purchased during that time, but a shortage forced the issue.
''We were to the point we had to order them.''
At least a few officers see the new uniforms as a portent of something they fear a reorganization that erases all distinctions between the two trooper divisions.
''A number of our troopers in Fish and Wildlife Protection see much of their identity tied to the brown uniform and are concerned this is just one step closer to possible merger,'' said Capt. Jeff Babcock in Palmer.
''That's a concern, because they signed up for the job (thinking) that they were going to be out patrolling Alaska's streams and woodlands, trying to prevent wildlife violations,'' he said.
''The general consensus is that as long as their mission doesn't change, they'll still be out there doing what they signed up to do. But they do wonder if this is the handwriting on the wall that they may not be doing (in the future) what they signed up to do.''
The Murkowski administration has not decided on the reorganization proposal, said Public Safety Commissioner Tandeske.
''I've got a whole lot of things on the plate, and that's not one at the top of the list yet,'' he said.
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