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Free Rick Sinnott

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / July 31, 2005

OK, so maybe it wasn't too smart for Rick Sinnott of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to be so candid about whoever dumped rotting fish on the Anchorage Hillside where it could draw in dangerous bears. "I'd like to catch the a--holes who did it and beat the crap out of them," Mr. Sinnott said.

Well, who wouldn't? (Even if everybody understands that remark as hyperbole.)

Somebody who dumps rotting fish around neighborhoods in bear country is beyond foolish. Somebody like that is dangerous -- to bears, which are likely to get killed for getting too familiar with human neighborhoods, and to people, especially kids, who are at higher risk of bear mauling. A public official like Mr. Sinnott has no excuse for threatening even a miscreant with physical harm, but his evaluation of the villains is undoubtedly correct.

And OK, Mr. Sinnott isn't exactly authorized to divide the powers between state and municipal governments -- so he shouldn't be lecturing Mayor Begich about enforcing municipal ordinances and changing the hours of trash collection in bear areas. But he -- Mr. Sinnott -- is right on the merits there too. The city should enforce its ordinances on what is essentially a public safety issue.

What's that old definition of a gaffe? Saying the right thing at the wrong time. That's Mr. Sinnott's problem. He's frustrated after years of responding to dumb human tricks regarding bears and other wild animals, and he's right on the merits but wrong on the methods.

Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell did the right thing by taking Mr. Sinnott off the bear beat and enforcing some old-fashioned professionalism in public office. (Side note to Commissioner Campbell: Any chance you could have a friendly little talk with Gentle Ben Stevens?)

But maybe he should let Mr. Sinnott off probation after a suitable cooling-off period. Mr. Sinnott has done a good job for a long time trying to keep the peace among animals and humans around Anchorage, and he's learned a lot in the process. It's important work. Maybe Mr. Sinnott could apologize publicly for overstepping his professional standards and acting like, well, a bear. Then, suitably chastened, he could return to bear intervention duty.

If Gentle Ben can be Senate Prez after childishly insulting the mayor and the people of the Valley, Mr. Sinnott ought to be able to keep doing his job after merely telling the truth about those threatening the safety of people and wildlife.

BOTTOM LINE: Take the leash off wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott -- if he apologizes first.

Do the Job

Respond to bear calls...

Whoever gets the assignment, somebody from Fish and Game always should be available to respond to residents' calls about bears or other wildlife causing trouble in Anchorage. This is a public safety job the cops just aren't always the best-suited to do.

Commissioner Campbell says he wants Fish and Game staff to respond to fewer such calls in the future, leaving more of the work to Anchorage police. No doubt he doesn't want the problem. But from a public standpoint, that decision doesn't make sense. Fish and Game officials are more likely than Anchorage cops to understand wildlife behaviors and the relative danger to humans.

Anchorage residents live with wildlife in a happy but sometimes scary co-existence. It's a privilege, but one that comes with public responsibilities. Just this week news reports described a veritable brown bear freeway just a few steps away from Tudor Road. That's both wonderful and hazardous. Troublesome wildlife encounters are a fact of life here, and Fish and Game should take the lead in dealing with them.
You could say it comes with the territory.

BOTTOM LINE: Keep Fish and Game on the job helping Anchorage residents deal with difficult wildlife.

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