Wolf Song of Alaska News

Upper Su Valley Strengthens Voice on Fisheries, Wildlife

7 COMMUNITIES: Board is first created in state since 1998

S.J. Komarnitsky / Anchorage Daily News / October 17, 2007


WASILLA -- The creation of a new fish and game advisory committee to represent the Upper Susitna Valley may not sound like much.

But supporters hope the payoff will be a greater voice for Valley residents on wildlife issues and perhaps better fishing.

The new committee created Oct. 8 represents seven communities from Big Lake to Talkeetna to Peters Creek and is a bit of a novelty as the first new such committee created by the state since 1998. It brings to 82 the total number of committees statewide and is the third in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The volunteer committees carry significant weight as advisers to two key state boards charged with regulating wildlife. Those two boards -- the Board of Game and Board of Fisheries -- decide a multitude of issues from setting hunting seasons to authorizing wolf kills to allocating salmon between commercial and sport fisherman.

The last is a sore point in Mat-Su where many sportfishermen feel they've been shorted in favor of Kenai commercial fishing interests.

Specifically, the fishermen believe Kenai fleets intercept too many Mat-Su-bound salmon and the Board of Fisheries should further restrict the commercial catch. Kenai fishermen claim they catch only a small number of fish headed for Mat-Su.

Tom Payton, a former fishing guide and member of one of the two existing Mat-Su committees, said he thinks the third committee will give Valley residents greater sway.

"It really matters who shows up (to the board meetings)," he said. "Then the board is looking these guys right in the face and they know they need to make some compromises. They can't just go all one way."

The new committee will also be far more accessible to Upper Susitna area residents, he said. The two existing committees -- Mt. Yenlo and Matanuska Valley, based in Skwentna and Palmer respectively -- require either a plane ride or a 11/2 -hour drive to participate in meetings.

That long commute has dissuaded many from participating, said Vern Logan, a Big Lake resident and 20-year member of the Mt. Yenlo committee.

Denny Hamann, the current chair of the Mat Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he expects the Upper Susitna committee will mean a more concerted voice for Mat-Su.

Jim Marcotte, executive director of the state Fisheries Board, acknowledged more participation couldn't hurt the Valley. But he said board decisions are based on science and evidence, not a "popularity contest."

Marcotte said the boards of fisheries and game approved the new committee unanimously with members swayed by the Upper Susitna area's significant population growth and the need for residents to have a convenient place to meet.

Marcotte said the new committee would have 15 members and likely hold its first meeting in December or January.

Five charter members --Logan, Bruce Knowles, Billy Fitzgerald, Norm Solberg and Dick Gunlogson -- were selected to kick things off. One of their first actions will be setting elections to fill the remaining 10 seats, he said.

He said the meeting site will likely rotate among the seven communities represented: Big Lake, Houston, Willow, Talkeetna, Sunshine, Peters Creek and Trappers Creek.

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