Game Board Focus Shifts to Hunters, Trappers

Good-bye buffer zone. Hello wolf control.

Fairbanks Daily News Miner / by Tim Mowry, Staff Writer (Published January 18, 2003)


While Gov. Frank Murkowski didn't come right out and say that on Friday when he named six new members to the Alaska Board of Game, the underlying message was clear--game management in Alaska will be geared toward the needs and wants of Alaska's hunters and trappers, not its tourists, now that Murkowski is in charge.

"My intention is to keep politics out of this area as much as possible," Murkowski said.

The governor said he did not fear a tourism boycott like those threatened by environmental groups in the mid-1990s if the state initiates a predator control program.

It's a sharp shift from the policies of former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, who called a halt to the state's killing of wolves shortly after he took office in 1994 and maintained a no-kill policy throughout his two terms.

With Knowles calling the shots, the game board adopted and then expanded a protective buffer zone on state land around Denali National Park and Preserve that prohibited the hunting and trapping of wolves that stray outside the park. Knowles also pushed for more wildlife viewing programs around the state.

The game board appointments were among several Murkowski made on Friday. The governor also named Tom Irwin of Fairbanks as commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and named three members to the University of Alaska Board of Regents: borough Assemblywoman Cynthia Henry, former Fairbanks city Mayor Jim Hayes, and business owner Mike Snowden of Sitka.

More announcements are expected today in Anchorage. Murkowski will name the commissioner, deputy commissioner and a director for the Department of Community and Economic Development, according to his office. He will also name two people to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska and one to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.
Interior ties

Of Murkowski's game board choices, two are registered big-game guides from Fairbanks, one is an air boater, one is a subsistence hunter and trapper from the Bush, one is a retired state wildlife biologist featured in Alaska Department of Fish and Game hunting videos, and one is the former director of the state's game division.

The two new Fairbanks members are Pete Buist and Sharon McLeod-Everette. Like Murkowski's other four appointments, they will be more open to killing wolves to boost game populations than conserving them for tourists.

"Two things I am interested in are sustainable yield and predator control," said McLeod-Everette, one of the first women to become a registered big game guide in Alaska.

The 52 year-old Buist, a master guide and longtime trapper who served as president of the Alaska Trappers Association for several years, said he was looking forward to "facilitating (the governor's) rejuvenated philosophy."

"I support the governor's push to get this back to a process based on science than (politics)," said Buist, who is well known for imparting his opinion when it comes to everything from animal-rights activists to game management in Alaska. "Science has taken a back seat to how we feel about wildlife."

As for the Denali Park buffer zone, Buist voiced his displeasure with that decision when he testified against the buffer zone at several game board meetings.

"If it comes up, my feelings on that have been pretty clear," said Buist, who works as a forester for the state Division of Forestry. "(The buffer zone) certainly wasn't based on science."
Murkowski's four other opponents:

  • Mike Fleagle, a hunter, trapper and subsistence user from McGrath who was appointed to the game board by Knowles in 1996 and was a proponent of wolf control. Fleagle, who has served on the board of directors of Doyon Ltd. since 1996 and is president of the Native village of Manley Hot Springs, was not re-appointed by Knowles.
  • Ted Spraker, a former area state wildlife biologist for the Kenai Peninsula who recently retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game after 28 years.
  • Ron Somerville, of Juneau, who worked 24 years with Fish and Game, including time as director of the state's game division. Somerville now works as a paid consultant to GOP lawmakers opposed to a subsistence constitutional amendment. He is a commercial fisherman and guide.
  • Cliff Judkins, of Wasilla, an air boat owner and former owner of the Crown Point Lodge at Moose Pass who serves on the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Murkowski took a sharp detour from the direction Knowles had been headed. During his eight-year tenure, Knowles said he wanted a "well-rounded" board that represented all Alaskans, not just hunters and trappers. Knowles' appointments included a wildlife photographer, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife and several scientists construed as non-hunters and trappers.

Murkowski made it clear which trail he will follow when it comes to managing the state's wildlife.

"My directive to them is to manage our wildlife for abundance, which is a higher standard than even the sustained yield principle required by the state Constitution," Murkowski said.

Murkowski is an avid hunter, evidenced by the two hunting trips he has already taken--one to hunt turkeys in Texas and the other to hunt pheasant in Scotland--since he was elected a little over two months ago.

Murkowski was able to clean house on the seven-member board after the Republican-led Legislature failed to confirm Knowles' last five appointments in hopes that Murkowski would be elected and appoint his own people. That left five seats to be filled; the sixth appointment is a replacement for Julie Maier of Fairbanks, whose term expires March 1. The lone holdover on the game board is former longtime legislator Ben Grussendorf of Sitka, who was appointed by Knowles a little more than two years ago

All six of Murkowski's new appointments must be confirmed by the Legislature.

Fairbanks' hard-core hunting community applauded Murkowski's appointments.

"Everybody I know is delighted with this list," said Mike Tinker, chairman of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the game board. "This is a shift in the direction in game management that isn't based on politics."

Paul Joslin, who heads the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, was disappointed in Murkowski's choices. It was the Alliance that fought for the buffer zone to protect wolves around Denali Park and continually tried to get the board to consider wildlife viewers in its decision making.

"There's no representative on the board now that represents any direct link to viewable wildlife interests," Joslin said. "We're likely to be marching backward."

Joslin wrote a letter to Murkowski about game board appointments and pointed out that 75 percent of Alaskans who can own one don't have a hunting license.

"What we've got now is a shift toward one end of the spectrum that's distant from where we should be working together," Joslin said. "Someday it would be nice if we had a (game) board where you didn't have to have a hunting license to be on the board."

The game board's next meeting is March 7-17 in Anchorage.

Staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7579 or The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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