JUNEAU--A bill introduced last week in the state Legislature
would change the name of the Board of Game to the Board of
Wildlife and increase its membership from seven people to
Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, the bill sponsor,
argues the change would give wildlife viewers and other non-consumptive
users a foothold on a board he says is dominated by hunters
are people in this state who value non-consumptive uses and
they should be represented," Ellis said. "Wildlife
belongs to us all, as a common property resource, just like
the oil, and it's very valuable for tourism and our Alaskan
quality of life and that should be recognized."
bill has brought praise from wildlife protection group The
Alaska Wildlife Alliance and scorn from Sen. Ralph Seekins,
R-Fairbanks, and Game Board member Pete Buist. Buist argues
that the board already considers non-consumptive use.
don't think there's anybody on there that doesn't support
it," he said.
Ellis disagrees. In addition to increasing the number of members,
his bill would require that the membership of the board, taken
as a whole, should reflect all the different uses of game
"in a comprehensive and fair manner," including
"sport and subsistence hunting, trapping, non-consumptive
uses, tourism and scientific study."
argues that Gov. Frank Murkowski's selections of board members
have shifted the panel overwhelmingly toward hunting and trapping
over other uses. Murkowski's six appointments to the seven-member
board include two big-game guides, an air boater, a subsistence
hunter and trapper, a retired state wildlife biologist featured
in state hunting videos and the former director of the state's
said those appointments spurred him to introduce the bill,
as did the state's institution of aerial wolf control and
the recent introduction of a bill by Seekins that would heavily
loosen restrictions on bear hunting in certain areas.
anti-predator kind of bias made me think that's the last straw,"
Joslin, wildlife director for the Wildlife Alliance, argues
that the majority of Alaskans support more diverse voices
on the board. He noted that three-quarters of the Alaskans
eligible for them don't own hunting licenses and said the
vast majority of people supported a Board of Wildlife idea
when polled about it 18 months ago.
you want good decisions, you really want a diverse board making
those decisions," Joslin said. "They should be representing
the public, not representing a minority interest that's trying
to get around the public."
Seekins and Buist say there simply isn't a problem. Seekins,
perhaps the foremost proponent of consumptive use in the Legislature,
argues that there is ample land for wildlife viewing in Alaska's
national parks. And he argues that the wording of the state
constitution gives priority to consumptive use.
look at the constitution that says we're supposed to manage
for sustained yield," he said. "Yield to me means
and Buist also both argue that hunting and other uses can
does not conflict with the aims of the hunters," Seekins
said. "The hunters want more to view because it basically
provides more to be able to harvest."
notes that the board has implemented several programs that
favor viewing over other uses, such as setting up bear-viewing
areas near Katmai National Park and nixing proposals to hunt
and trap wolves in another area north of Anchorage. And programs
like aerial wolf control in McGrath will eventually grow wolf
populations as game populations rebound, he argued.
doesn't buy such arguments, arguing that the Board favors
moose and caribou over other forms of wildlife.
predators increases moose and caribou so there's more wildlife
to look at?" he asked, referring to Seekins' contention.
"That offends me. That's a pretty ridiculous statement
on his part."
argued that wildlife sometimes can't be managed for both consumptive
and non-consumptive uses. He said that very specific guidelines
are needed to manage wildlife for viewing, citing the two
wolf packs that roam Denali National Park. The less than 20
wolves in those packs--which are currently protected by a
state buffer zone around the park--account for 20,000 wolf
sightings a year, he said.
wildlife interests often work with very tiny populations,"
he said. "Those populations have to be exceedingly well-protected."
also questioned Seekins' constitutional argument.
constitution) says that the wildlife is for common use for
all Alaskans," he said. "It doesn't say for a special
says his bill isn't an attempt to have anti-hunting interests
take over the board. He stresses that he's only proposing
two seats. Murkowski would have the power to appoint anyone
he wants into the seats, though Ellis holds out hope the governor
would choose people whose focus is non-consumptive use.
wanted to start this conversation," he said. "It
would be an opportunity for this governor and future governors
to bring a broader perspective to the board."
Buist said the board has always been subject to the politics
of the administration. He argues that it would be a mistake
to change the whole set up of the board because of objections
to any one regime.
be changing this thing every time we changed governors,"
bill has been referred to the Senate Resources and Finance
committees. Ellis said he doesn't know whether it will get
Tom Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907)