Other voices just as valid

Posted: Friday, December 08, 2000

I am not a hunter. But I am not opposed to hunting. I have moose steaks and caribou sausage in my freezer, courtesy of hunting friends, and enjoy them as much as the next guy.

I'm not a trapper either. But I'm also not opposed to trapping.

I enjoy the wildness of Alaska, as many of us do. But just as there are many of us in Alaska, there are many points of view about how best to use and enjoy that wildness. Which is why I find it odd that, Les Palmer, who I respect and even admire, would claim that alleged "threats" to our hunting and trapping heritage are akin to "death by paper cuts." (See related opinion column above.)

Last year, the state issued 86,018 resident hunting licenses and 24,330 resident trapping licenses for a combined 110,348 licenses. In a state with some 620,000 residents, that amounts to a little less than 18 percent of the total population.

Assuming there is a small percentage of Alaskans who have no opinion at all about the state's wildlife and what it should be used for, that still leaves a sizable portion who, like myself, believe that non-consumptive uses of wildlife are every bit as valuable as the consumptive ones that Les would have us believe are under siege.

I sympathize with Les -- and all hunting interests that campaigned for passage of Proposition 1 last month. They had many valid arguments. But I, like a large majority of my fellow Alaskans, just couldn't bring myself to accede my right to voice an opinion -- via the ballot initiative -- on how our game is managed.

Opponents of the proposition would have us believe that the mechanism is in place already to ensure that all Alaskans retain a voice in game management. But that mechanism -- testimony before the state's Board of Game -- could never be viewed rationally as a fair tradeoff when the board's makeup is considered.

The Board of Game, a seven-person body responsible for passing regulations "to conserve and develop" Alaska's wildlife resources, is comprised entirely of hunters -- as if the state's game resources were their exclusive domain.

Not to squeeze a lemon into anyone's paper cut, but what is so unfair about having a broader spectrum of interests represented on a board charged with wildlife conservation and development? Seems to me what's really unfair is that an interest group representing 18 percent of the state's population decides wildlife management policy for the other 82 percent.

Nothing fuzzy about that math.

When it comes to fishing and the endless controversy over allocation, Les is very vocal about the fact that Cook Inlet salmon don't belong exclusively to commercial fishers. And he's right. But neither does Alaska's game belong exclusively to hunters and trappers.

And to blame Gov. Tony Knowles for trying to diminish hunters' rights or for "downgrading" the board by appointing "wildlife watchers and professional wildlife photographers" is not only unfair, it's deceptive. All the hunters currently sitting on the board were appointed by Knowles. Still, Les says it's the governor who does not get the point when his nonhunting appointees -- four and counting -- get the boot from the board.

I would submit that it is the Legislature's Republican caucus, emboldened by a veto-proof majority, that refuses to get the point. And the fact that we had to vote again on airborne wolf-hunting, despite having rejected the practice once, only to have our will subverted by legislators catering to a minority special interest, is all the proof anyone needs of this.

Like it or not, there are other wildlife interests in Alaska. And there's something singularly undemocratic -- and far worse than a paper cut -- about an elected Legislature that refuses to acknowledge the validity of other viewpoints by upholding the sanctity of a game board monopolized by hunters.

The Legislature will have its latest opportunity to get this point when it considers the governor's newest appointee, conservationist Chip Dennerlein, for a seat on the Board of Game.

I would never dispute the validity of the role of hunters on the board. Nor, I'm guessing, would most Alaskans. So when the validity of my voice -- and the voices of 510,000 other Alaskans -- is disputed, it's pretty hard to sympathize with someone else's paper cut.

Mark Kelsey is the Clarion's managing editor. Opposing and supporting opinions are welcome at clarion@alaska.net.

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