During last fall's gubernatorial campaign, Sarah Palin made comments that show she recognizes the importance of having a balanced Board of Game. Sadly, once elected, Gov. Palin failed to walk her talk. When a seat opened up this year, she chose to ignore at least one candidate, George Matz, with strong credentials and a biology/conservation background that would have broadened the board's perspective. Instead she reappointed Bob Bell.
It was an awful mistake.
This isn't meant to demean Bell's character or contributions to our community. For all I know, he's a wonderful husband and grandfather, a talented engineer, a fine business owner. But none of that is relevant here. Bell's own résumé offers no shred of evidence that he has the experience or knowledge that would best serve Alaska's wildlife and its management. Just as worrisome, if not more so, is the fact that Bell (in his short time on the board) has demonstrated he's simply another unyielding predator-control advocate who favors policies that essentially promote wild-game farming.
One former Board of Game member has noted that in 30 years of either serving on the board or participating in its meetings in one fashion or another, he never once saw Bell in attendance. There's no record of his participation in wildlife-management matters until his appointment by former Gov. Frank Murkowski. That initial appointment was a shock to many - particularly those most intimately involved in Alaska's wildlife politics. His reappointment by Gov. Palin was an outrage.
I had a first-hand opportunity to watch Bell in action at the BOG's March meeting and what I saw disturbed me. Besides leading the charge to allow wolverine trapping in Chugach State Park, he displayed poor judgment and an ignorance of wildlife-management issues several other times.
Consider the following example, which is every bit as egregious as his push for wolverine trapping in Chugach State Park. One proposal before the board requested a trophy bull-moose hunt in the portion of the park above Anchorage's Hillside. State wildlife manager Rick Sinnott strongly recommended a "no" vote and gave several reasons why. The highly habituated bulls, Sinnott emphasized, are prized by photographers and wildlife watchers, so a conflict would inevitably result; the harvest of older bulls would in no way resolve Anchorage's moose-human conflicts; and a trophy hunt would likely stir up enough opposition that even the cow hunt might be closed.
Ted Spraker and Ron Somerville, no shrinking violets when it comes to increased moose hunting opportunities, also spoke out against the trophy hunt. But Bell was unconvinced. The proposal failed, 1-6, with Bell voting for the hunt, against the advice of both Sinnott and his colleagues. In this instance, perhaps more than any other, he failed the common-sense test.
One other point that must be considered: Bob Bell is Anchorage's lone representative on the current Board of Game. Yet his comments and votes make it clear that he does not represent the values and attitudes of most Anchorage residents when it comes to wildlife management issues.
The Board of Game under Gov. Murkowski and now, Gov. Palin, has had a dismissive attitude toward Anchorage residents who testify at its meetings and it has consistently ignored the desires and values of most Anchorage residents in its decisions, even when those decisions directly affect us "urban" Alaskans, most notably in Chugach State Park. Anchorage deserves to have a board member who will fairly and adequately represent Anchorage perspectives. Bob Bell is not that person.
The good news is that the Alaska Legislature still needs to vote on Bell's appointment to the Board of Game. Its members can reverse Gov. Palin's poor decision by refusing to confirm him. Maybe then our new governor will find someone to add a measure of balance to a sadly unbalanced body.
Bill Sherwonit / Anchorage