Game Board Changes Sought


NEW VOICES: Panel would make room for non-consumptive users

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / February 19, 2004


Blasting wolves from airplanes and baiting bears with doughnuts are among the reasons supporters give for wanting new voices and viewpoints, even a new name, for the Alaska Board of Game.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, has presented legislation to make room on a new, larger Board of Wildlife for "non-consumptive users," such as photographers and scientists. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Legislature. But if it fails there, advocates say they'll take it to voters as a statewide ballot initiative.

Those who feel the current Game Board doesn't represent them say the revisions are overdue. The board is stacked against non-consumptive users, and doesn't reflect the public's changing values on hunting and trapping, Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance said.

Senate Bill 343 "creates a level playing field, so all those who care about wildlife are at the table making decisions," he said.

Others say Ellis' bill is unnecessary. Game Board chairman Mike Fleagle said the board considers all viewpoints; it just doesn't agree with some of them.

"I wouldn't be opposed to having people on the board with different perspectives than mine," said Fleagle, who lives in McGrath. "In fact, I've worked with board members with opposing viewpoints and it adds to the discussion. But I think mandating the make-up of the board or changing its name to accommodate this isn't necessary."

The seven Game Board members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. There is no requirement that they have hunting or trapping licenses, only that members have "good judgment, knowledge and ability in the field of action of the board."

The governor is also expected to name members "with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view."

That's not happening, said Ellis' chief of staff, Garen Tarr. The new bill specifies that the board "taken as a whole, shall directly reflect all of the citizens' various uses of game for sport and subsistence hunting, trapping, non-consumptive uses, tourism and scientific study."

Past Legislatures have refused to confirm nominees "because they felt the intention of the Board of Game was to represent consumptive uses only," such as hunting and trapping, Tarr said.

The panel would be renamed the Board of Wildlife, and would expand to nine members. That would allow Gov. Frank Murkowski to add two non-consumptive users without removing any current members, Tarr said.

Ellis could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But his constituents have called for such changes for years, Tarr said. The clamor increased after Murkowski was elected and filled six board seats with advocates of predator control -- killing wolves to boost populations of moose and caribou.

Then state Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, pushed a bill through the Legislature giving the Game Board unprecedented authority to resume aerial wolf control, a practice that had virtually died out after a ballot proposition in 1996.

Now state-sponsored aircraft-supported wolf kills are under way near McGrath and in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage, and the Game Board is expected to consider similar programs in several more areas when it meets later this month in Fairbanks.

Even with non-consumptive users, the board still might have authorized the wolf kills, Tarr said. But the programs might have been structured differently and sidestepped some of the controversy that surrounds them, she said.

Fleagle said critics are missing the mark.

"I've been on the board more than six years total, and every iteration of that board has been very thorough in its discussion of the issues," he said. "I know we're criticized for being all hunters and trappers, but I think that's unjust criticism. I think it works."

At least one poll suggests otherwise. A statewide survey of 510 residents conducted by Dittman Research Corp. of Alaska on behalf of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in 2002 found 83 percent favored including wildlife watchers, photographers and others who neither hunt nor trap on the Game Board.

If the Legislature won't make the changes, voters will through a ballot initiative, Joslin predicted.

"It has so much overwhelming support, (an initiative) seems the logical thing to do," he said.

Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at jgay@adn.com or at 257-4310

 


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