Murkowski Game Board Heavy
on Hunting Advocates
Nominees: Governor nixes six of seven seats appointed by Knowles
Juneau -- Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday waded into the predator control battlefield while he put his firm stamp on the Alaska Board of Game.
Murkowski swept out six of the seven Game Board members appointed by the previous governor, Tony Knowles, and replaced them with his own picks. His new members include well-known supporters of state wolf kills as a tool to boost big game populations.
Murkowski named Pete Buist of Fairbanks, Ron Somerville of Juneau, Mike Fleagle of McGrath, Ted Spraker of Soldotna, Cliff Judkins of Wasilla and Sharon McLeod-Everett of Fairbanks. The Republican governor left one Knowles appointee on the board, former state Rep. Ben Grussendorf of Sitka.
Buist is past president of the Alaska Trappers Association. Somerville is on the board of the Territorial Sportsmen, a hunting advocacy group. Fleagle pushed for wolf control in his previous term on the board.
Spraker last year retired as a Soldotna-based career wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Judkins, of Wasilla, chairs the Susitna Fish and Game Advisory Commission and is president of the Alaska Boating Association.
McLeod-Everett is a big game guide, an outdoor educator and member of the Alaska Outdoor Council, a pro-hunting group active in wildlife and subsistence issues.
She will take her seat in March; the rest will start next week. All are subject to confirmation by the Legislature.
The board writes hunting and trapping rules and oversees state wildlife management.
The governor said his nominees share his philosophy of managing game populations for the highest sustainable human harvest, and said he intends to "address the responsibility" of predator control.
"We are not going to be on the defensive," he said, naming his choices in Fairbanks. "We're going to be on the offensive based on the sound science of game management."
Predator control often, but not always, means wolf-kill programs. Wolves and bears prey on caribou and moose, the game animals prized by hunters.
Knowles, a Democrat, had said the state should not pursue predator-kill programs without meeting a list of standards that included scientific need and public support.
Joel Bennett of Juneau, a Knowles appointee replaced on Friday, charged that the new governor has now stacked the board with aggressive hunting advocates to the detriment of other Alaskans who treasure the state's wildlife resources for viewing or other non-consumptive uses.
"(The appointments) are a step back in time to say the least," Bennett said. "To an older day when wildlife in the state was purely at the beck and call of hunters."
Bennett also said state-sponsored wolf killing could invite the kind of boycott the state faced in the mid-1990s when national animal rights groups called on tourists to skip Alaska because of the wolf-control program under Gov. Walter Hickel.
Asked about that on Friday, Murkowski said visitors come here to see abundant wildlife, and an "overpopulation" of wolves hurts wildlife. He also said non-consumptive users already have areas of the state that are closed to hunting and have great viewing.
"We've got to find a balance," Murkowski said.
Buist claims game populations are in bad shape in the McGrath area and the Nelchina Basin for lack of active management. Predator control should be considered one tool in the effort, he said.
He said the new board will "get back to managing game instead of making everybody feel good about it."
Buist has been active in past efforts to allow land-and-shoot-wolf hunting as a game management tool. Two successful citizens' initiatives have banned land-and-shoot wolf hunting in Alaska.
Somerville has long been a fixture in Alaska game management and wildlife politics. Hickel had tried to make him the state fish and game commissioner but backed off in 1991, in a controversy over Somerville's outspoken opposition to a rural subsistence priority. He is a past director of the state game division and once ran for governor on a largely pro sport hunting platform.
Somerville said decisions on any predator-kill programs will be based on public and scientific information. In addition to wolf control, predatory bears could be managed through hunting seasons and bag limits, he said.
He objected to the contention that the new board is only interested in hunting or other consumptive uses of wildlife. He and other board members hunt, he said, but also watch, photograph and otherwise enjoy wildlife.
Deb Ajango, head of the Anchorage-based Alaska Wilderness, Recreation and Tourism Association, said she hopes that the new Game Board will realize that consumptive users are a "pretty small population in the state" and the needs of nonhunters also need to be taken into consideration.
Issues like predator control need special care because of the mystique of possibly seeing Alaska's bears and wolves is a major draw for visitors, she said.
"Often when it comes to something like wolf control there is a real good chance it is going to affect business owners in Alaska," she said.
Knowles appointed five Game Board members last summer to fill vacancies created after the Republican-dominated Legislature in May refused to take a vote on whether to confirm Knowles' appointees to major state boards. Legislators said then that they wanted to give the new governor a chance to fill the positions.
Reporter Sean Cockerham can be reached at email@example.com or 1-907-586-1531.
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670