Game Board is Skewed

Governor's choices don't represent all Alaskans


Anchorage Daily News / Opinion (Published: January 21, 2003)


Gov. Frank Murkowski says he's just restoring "balance" to the Alaska Board of Game with his appointment of six new members. That remark is an early candidate for the most Orwellian political utterance of the year. What he claims is "balance" is better described as "putting hunters and trappers back in full control of the board."

The previous governor, Tony Knowles, appointed a few Game Board members who realized non-hunting Alaskans have a legitimate voice in game management questions. With his choices, Gov. Murkowski stacked the board with hard-line advocates of predator control. Gov. Murkowski's appointees will be much more inclined to order the killing of wolves and bears to boost the supply of animals for hunting and trapping.

Predator control can be a legitimate game management tool in cases when a game population has drastically shrunk and may not recover otherwise. But it is highly controversial, so it should be a policy of last resort. If their past efforts are any guide, Gov. Murkowski's appointees are more likely to shrug off the controversy and make wide use of predator control.

Gov. Murkowski's appointments also include members who have repeatedly fought a subsistence priority for rural residents. Ron Somerville in particular has been a high-profile critic, repeatedly using rhetoric that shows little sympathy for the role subsistence plays in Alaska Native cultures.

Putting such a strident critic of rural subsistence on the Game Board is a divisive move that understandably stirs concern among many Alaska Natives. It's one more example of the treatment that has led Alaska Natives to embrace the federal takeover of fish and game management on federal lands and waters in Alaska.

Alaskans hold considerably more diverse wildlife management views than do Gov. Murkowski's Game Board choices. A Game Board that is not representative of Alaskans will have a harder time making decisions the public will accept. With the board now strongly tilted to the extreme, disaffected interests are more likely to resort to lawsuits, voter initiatives and even economic boycotts. With more diverse representation, the Game Board could be a forum for reducing conflict over game management, but that's unlikely with this group.

The Republican Legislature repeatedly terminated Democratic Gov. Knowles' Game Board appointments for being insufficiently enthusiastic about hunting and trapping. Gov. Murkowski's appointments won't suffer the same fate, so advocates of rural subsistence and wildlife watching will get short shrift.

With such an unrepresentative board, Alaska can expect more division and conflict over game management.

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