Budget cuts limit travel by hunting and fishing boards

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) State hunting and fishing boards are dropping travel to rural Alaska under budget cuts announced by the Department of Fish and Game.

The Alaska Board of Game and the Board of Fisheries will meet only in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau, saving the state about $200,000 a year, according to Fish and Game estimates. When they meet, the boards will have less time to listen to testimony or debate the merits of a proposal.

Some hunters, fishermen and former state biologists say the new restrictions will limit Alaskans' voices in the rule-making, dimming the state's system of wildlife management.

''Alaska has one of the most looked-up-to management systems in the nation, perhaps the world,'' said Cordova mayor and former Fish and Game biologist Tim Joyce. ''When you have something that works, why fix it? I think they need to be careful.''

A shrinking state budget forced the cutbacks, said Jim Marcotte, the Fairbanks-based executive director of the Game Board.

''The reality is that we've got limited resources and limited staff. We're being spread thinner. But given that, we'll do the best we can,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

The Game Board will meet only 18 days in the coming year. It is moving its Western Alaska/Arctic meeting from Kotzebue to Anchorage. A meeting to tackle statewide game issues in Anchorage has been combined with another that focuses on Interior regulations and moved to Fairbanks.

The Fish Board is cutting 10 days off its schedule, though board chairman Ed Dersham said that does not worry him. The Anchor Point lodge owner and charter fisherman said the current board members are less talkative than their predecessors.

''I think if we really buckle down, we can do the work in fewer days,'' he said. ''In a way, it makes it better for the public. They don't have to stay'' to testify and wait for the board to act.

Dersham said his board can cope, but he's sorry it can't afford to travel to the Bush.

''We tried to absorb the cuts and still be able to go out there, but it just isn't feasible. It's so much more expensive than having them in Anchorage,'' Dersham said.

Rural Alaskans echo his concerns. If the board can't visit the far-flung areas it regulates, said Thomas Sparks of Nome, ''you limit the ability of people to interact with the decision-makers. I think they (the board) get a much broader view of the issues when they hear from a diverse group of people.''

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