Find Balance
Game Board Could Use a Change

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / February 24, 2004

A bill from Anchorage state Sen. Johnny Ellis raises a good question: Why is the state panel that makes wildlife management decisions called the Board of Game?

"Game" implies that wildlife are nothing more than the objects of humans who want to hunt or trap them. A majority of Alaskans, though, do not hunt or trap. Many Alaskans and visitors enjoy being able to see a moose or a bear or a wolf or a sheep or maybe a whole herd of caribou. Every year, miles of film and trillions of pixels are devoted to capturing images of Alaska's majestic wild animals. Some people take satisfaction just from knowing wild animals are out there in Alaska, even if they never see them.

The board of "game" needs to reflect the interests of these Alaskans too. In recent years, the Legislature has repeatedly spurned Game Board appointees who were considered too sympathetic to non-hunting interests. Since Gov. Frank Murkowski took office in 2002, all six of his appointments have been hard-core advocates of killing predators so hunters will have more moose available.

Make no mistake: Hunting and trapping are legitimate uses of Alaska wildlife. Natives have depended on wildlife for food since time immemorial. Subsistence use of wildlife is still the foundation of Native cultures. Many non-Native Alaskans hunt to put food on their tables, too. Sport hunting here is a worldwide attraction that makes an important, ecologically sustainable contribution to the economy.

But non-hunting Alaskans are underrepresented on the Game Board. Sen. Ellis' bill would bring more balance to the process. He would add two seats and require the governor to make sure the full spectrum of wildlife uses are represented. By changing the name to the "Board of Wildlife," his bill would reinforce that broader point.

Some fans of the current board say it already considers non-consumptive users when it makes decisions. Consideration, however, is different than representation.

No one would argue that the Legislature can do without representatives from rural areas because urban legislators will "consider" rural perspectives on issues. Having one's views "considered" is no substitute for having a seat at the table when it's time to deliberate and decide.

Wildlife advocates say they may launch a voter initiative if Sen. Ellis' measure does not pass. Neither the bill nor an initiative would be necessary if the Legislature and governor would show more respect for non-hunting interests. But they are not likely to change course, so it will almost certainly take an initiative to ensure more balanced representation in the state's wildlife decisions.

The Board of Game needs better representation for non-hunters.


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