Murkowski expected to replace state Board of Game appointees

Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2002

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Board of Game, probably convening for the last time in its current makeup, wrestled with ethical as well as biological issues in its latest meeting.

If the Game Board made every decision based only on biology, there would be no need for the board, said member Julie Maier of Fairbanks. The board sets rules for hunting and trapping on state and private land and some federal lands in Alaska.

"I think we deal with far more than biology," agreed board member Jack Lentfer of Homer. "We deal with ethics and aesthetically acceptable methods of hunting and trapping."

During the six-day meeting that just ended, members sometimes balanced the freedoms of hunters and trappers against the contrary wishes of homeowners or wildlife viewers who live near hunting grounds.

But it probably was this board's last hurrah.

Five members of the seven-person board were appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in July, after the legislative session ended.

The Republican-led Legislature refused to consider confirming five other nominees, effectively rejecting them. The five July nominees or others named in their place still need to be confirmed by the Legislature.

Republican Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski, who takes office Dec. 2, is expected to replace at least some of the new appointees.

The term of a sixth board member, a Knowles appointee who was confirmed in 2001, ends March 1.

The Game Board's next meeting is scheduled to begin March 7 in Anchorage.

Dan Saddler, spokesperson for Murkowski's campaign, said the governor-elect has no official position on the Game Board nominations yet.

"There are many issues the governor will face, and this is one of them," Saddler said.

"If we all get axed like the French Revolution ... what is the public going to think about it?" asked Game Board member Joel Bennett of Juneau. "Is the public going to think that's fair?"

Lawmakers used to defer to governors on their appointments, said Bennett, who has served on the Game Board intermittently for nearly 15 years under several governors.

"Now if you don't buy into predator control at a pretty aggressive level, you don't get through the Legislature," he said.

Board member Victor Van Ballenberghe of Anchorage said board candidates didn't used to be interrogated and vilified and asked about wolf control by legislative committees.

But it's the Game Board that favors politics over science, said Jesse VanderZanden, executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, a statewide organization of more than 12,000 sport hunters and fishers.

He faulted the current board for its actions to protect wolves in Denali National Park, Douglas Island and Southeast when wolf populations weren't in trouble.

"Some of the decisions that we're seeing are not based on a conservation concern for a particular species. They're based on politics," VanderZanden said.

The board's actions last week in Juneau were a mixed bag of adding to hunting and trapping opportunities in some places and cutting back in others. Board member Tim Towarak of Nome was absent.

The five board members who haven't been confirmed by the Legislature are Van Ballenberghe, Bennett, Lentfer, Rob Hardy and Towarak. Maier's term expires in March, before the next board meeting, and Ben Grussendorf's term ends in March 2004.

Eric Fry is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.

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