Game Board Needs to be Diversified, Bill Sponsor Says

ELLIS: Senator argues that board is dominated by hunters and trappers

Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / February 25, 2004

JUNEAU -- Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis is sponsoring a bill that would change the name of the Board of Game to the Board of Wildlife and increase its membership from seven people to nine.

Ellis, D-Anchorage, says the game board is dominated by hunters and trappers, and needs more diversification, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. His bill would give wildlife viewers and other non-consumptive users a foothold on a board, he 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," Ellis said.

The bill has brought praise from 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.

"I don't think there's anybody on there that doesn't support it," he said.

But Ellis said the board needs to be more balanced.

In addition to increasing the number of members, Ellis said the bill would require that the membership of the board 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."

Ellis' bill has been referred to the Senate Resources and Finance committees. Ellis said he doesn't know whether it will get any hearings.

Ellis 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 game division.

Ellis 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.

"The anti-predator kind of bias made me think that's the last straw," Ellis said.

Paul Joslin, wildlife director for the Wildlife Alliance, argues that the majority of Alaskans support more diverse voices on the board.

"If 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."

But 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.

"I look at the constitution that says we're supposed to manage for sustained yield," he said. "Yield to me means harvest."

Buist 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.

Ellis doesn't buy such arguments, arguing that the board favors moose and caribou over other forms of wildlife.

"Killing 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."


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