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Wildlife Cops

Governor is right to take close look at fish, game boards' complaint

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / July 26, 2006


Many Alaskans of a certain age can recall coming to this state and hearing tales of how tough Alaska's wildlife law enforcement was.

"You can do more time for taking a moose out of season than you can for manslaughter." Introduction to Alaska, 101. We take our game laws seriously.

Now, however, in a unanimous vote, Alaska's boards of fish and game have asked Gov. Frank Murkowski to reconsider the merging of Alaska's Wildlife Enforcement Division into the Alaska State Troopers. In 2003, Alaska no longer had trooper "brown shirts," officers of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske blended the wildlife troopers with the Alaska State Troopers. All the troopers became blue shirts.

Now recruits join the troopers and can apply to be wildlife officers later rather than seek that job from the start. Critics contend that wildlife law enforcement and recruitment of new officers have suffered and that fewer officers means fewer warnings, less outreach and education.

Mr. Tandeske says that reorganization hasn't hurt wildlife enforcement efforts, which he says were already falling.

Well, somebody has it wrong here. If both the Board of Game and Board of Fish see diminished enforcement, the governor and Mr. Tandeske are wise to take a close look and order whatever fixes are necessary. The merger of brown and blue shirts may or not be the cause. Brown or blue, the enforcement most Alaskans want is swift, thorough and fair. If enforcement has gone lax, the governor should fortify it.

At the governor's picnic in Anchorage on Sunday, he said he suspected some politics in the boards' letter. It's the season, all right, but that doesn't matter. If changes are in order, Gov. Murkowski should make them now, not leave the matter for the next administration, whether his or another's.

Alaskans argue fiercely over fish and game allocations, predator control and dueling science. But smart, honest Alaskans know that fair, consistent enforcement is vital to wildlife management and good stewardship.

BOTTOM LINE: Take a cold, hard look at fish and game enforcement, and don't hesitate to make any changes necessary.

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