Legislation Aims to Change Game Board's Name, Mission

The board last fall approved aerial hunting of wolves in order to boost moose populations in several areas


Lynn Melling / KTUU-TV / Channel 2 / NBC / Anchorage / February 16, 2004

Feb. 16 - A move from the Senate minority Monday to protest decisions from the governor's office on wolf control. Senate Bill 343 would change the name of the Board of Game to the Board of Wildlife, and add two more members to the panel.

But how much will it change? The sponsor of the bill says it's a step toward much-needed change, and merely an attempt to bring more voices into the debate. Opponents say the Board of Game already represents a variety of voices and this proposal does nothing more than stir the pot.

Wolves have become the center of a passionate debate. Dozens have been killed so far this winter from airplanes in an attempt to preserve moose for subsistence needs. The decision to do it came from the Alaska Board of Game -- some say an unbalanced one.

"We have a Board of Game right now that is about extremist as you can get," says Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. He says the board is made up of hunters who give hunting interests the upper hand and, at the same time, disregard the views of most Alaska voters.

Now the movement is on to change that. "This bill would work towards creating fairness. It would create a level playing field so it could make good decisions," Joslin says.

Senate minority leader Johnny Ellis has just introduced SB 343, which would change the board's name to the Board of Wildlife. Aside from that change, it would add two more seats to the seven-member board. He says that would give the governor, who appoints the board members -- and would continue to do so -- a better opportunity to offer some balance.

"I think Frank Murkowski is inviting disaster with his extreme appointments and his extreme policies that ignore the will of the voters," Ellis says.

The bill says the board "shall directly reflect all of the citizens' various uses of game," from subsistence hunting to non-consumptive uses to tourism.

But at least one member says the current board already represents all those interests.

"I think it does," says Pete Buist. "We have people who have commercial interests in wildlife. Virtually everybody on the board use wildlife for 11 and a half months out of the year, although for a couple of weeks, some of us hunt."

Members say the board has been successful since statehood. "The system has worked very well for a number of years," Buist says. "And the fact that activists are upset with it doesn't mean we should change the whole system."

Right now, it's a system that's apparently up for some scrutiny. Ellis says his bill is a direct response to aerial wolf hunting, as well as to a bill recently introduced by Fairbanks Sen. Ralph Seekins that would give hunters the right to pursue and kill bears.

If the bill makes it through the Legislature, Ellis says the actual changes the public would see would depend on the governor, since he still gets to appoint the board members. Ellis says the bill does not make any requirements of the governor, but he hopes the governor would take advantage of the opportunity.

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