Gov. Frank Murkowski wants to replace an Alaska Board of Game member who wouldn't change his vote on a controversial predator control program last year with a longtime subsistence advocate from Western Alaska.
Fairbanks resident Pete Buist is considered one of the most knowledgeable members about hunting and trapping on the seven-member board, which writes the rules for wildlife use in the state. He has degrees in forestry and biology, and he retired last August after more than 25 years as a state forester and land manager.
But Buist, whom Murkowski appointed in 2003, is also one of the board's most blunt and outspoken members. The governor's decision not to offer him a new three-year term came as little surprise, he said.
"After the governor's office called us (last year) and asked us to change our votes, and I didn't do it, I wasn't shocked" at being passed over, Buist said this week. "Disappointed, but not shocked."
Murkowski instead has nominated Carl Morgan, a former Republican state representative from the Yup'ik Eskimo community of Aniak, who lost a bid for the Alaska Senate last fall.
The Alaska Legislature still must confirm Morgan, along with reappointed Game Board members Ron Somerville of Juneau and Ted Spraker of Soldotna.
On the Alaska Board of Fisheries, three members are also up for confirmation: Melvan Morris of Kodiak, Rupert Andrews of Juneau and John Jensen of Petersburg.
Buist said he expects Morgan, who represented a wide swath of the Interior from 1998 to 2004, will vote much the same as he would on most Game Board matters, including predator control. The appointment will also help diversify the board, said Buist, one of two Fairbanks residents on the panel.
"I can understand that the Native community was very interested in having more folks on board" to represent rural interests, Buist said. "Carl Morgan will do an excellent job."
Buist said he felt largely supported by the governor during his two-year stint, particularly as the board resumed lethal predator control after a lengthy hiatus. Since 2003, the board has enabled private citizens to shoot wolves from the air or shortly after landing in five areas as a way of bolstering moose and caribou stocks for human consumption. To date this winter, more than 250 wolves have been killed.
But the board appeared to have crossed a line last year when it approved a plan to reduce grizzly bear numbers in an area near Tok. After finding that brown bears were key predators on moose calves, the board approved several nontraditional measures to make it easier for hunters in the area to kill bears, including using bait.
The board also made it legal to shoot a bear on the same day a hunter was airborne. The practice is illegal for most big-game hunts in the state, but the Game Board thought it would allow hunters to tend remote bait stations more easily. It would also allow a pilot to spot a bear from the air, land nearby and shoot it after walking a certain distance from the plane.
After the vote, the governor's office called and asked the board to drop the same-day airborne provision. While the majority agreed, Buist refused to change his vote.
"I just consider that the wild resources in this state and these allocation issues are too important to arrive at a purely political solution. I have always believed that," he said.
As a state employee, he had similar disputes, Buist said. "I was not an easy person to supervise," he acknowledged. "I was not willing to do things that didn't seem right for the resource. When I knew it wasn't right, I dragged my feet, and I did that on the board."
Murkowski spokeswoman Rebecca Hultberg deflected questions about Buist's voting record. "Pete's been a valuable and effective board member," she said. "But when you have a lot of qualified applicants for a limited number of seats, you have to make some hard decisions. The governor just wanted to give Rep. Morgan the opportunity to serve."
Morgan is well qualified for the post, Hultberg added. In addition to being a former legislator and Aniak mayor, he is on the federal Western Interior Subsistence Advisory Council.
Game Board Chairman Mike Fleagle said he encouraged the governor to reappoint Buist. "I felt like as a board we were moving in the right direction in predator control and other issues, and I thought he was key component," Fleagle said. "He'll be sorely missed."
Others disagree. Paul Joslin, a former Alaska Wildlife Alliance biologist who opposed many recent Game Board decisions, such as predator control and hunting near game sanctuaries, said Buist has been a difficult board member to work with.
"He has not shown a great deal of respect for viewpoints that do not align with his," Joslin said. "Hunters and the other 75 percent of the populace that are non-hunters need to work together to find solutions to many of our most basic wildlife problems. The Board of Game, and in particular Pete Buist, have not shown a willingness to do this."
Joslin is one of several Alaskans seeking to re-configure the Game Board into a Board of Wildlife. Its membership should go beyond hunters and trappers to include photographers, hikers and others who enjoy animals without killing them, he said.
"The Game Board is too narrowly focused," Joslin said. "It runs counter to the state constitution," which bestows ownership of the state's fish and wildlife "to all people, not just the pleasure of a single user group. This stranglehold, this monopoly needs to change."
Hultberg said she didn't know whether any of the six applicants for the three open Game Board seats was a non-consumptive user, but she added that the governor would likely appoint people whose views on game management mirror his own.
Buist believes the current board is doing a good job of managing the state's game resources. But while he would rather be on the board than off, "I don't really find this depressing," he said of Murkowski's decision. "It's somebody else's turn. ... I retired last August, and I have plenty of things to do," including a hunting, fishing and photography trip to Africa next month.
Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4310.