A growing dispute between Native leaders and Gov. Sarah Palin may have been defused late Wednesday when Teresa Sager-Albaugh, a former Alaska Outdoor Council president, turned down her new appointment to the state Board of Game.
Sager-Albaugh said she was withdrawing her name so that the growing controversy did not get in the way of the Game Board's important work.
Native leaders began protesting last week after Palin filled three vacancies on the Game Board, leaving no Native or off-road rural resident as members for the first time ever. The board sets policies for wildlife, hunting and subsistence on state and private lands in Alaska.
Palin named Lew Bradley, a Palmer sheep hunter and retired Wasilla middle school coach, to the board. She also reappointed Ted Spraker of Kenai.
But it was the appointment of Sager-Albaugh that drew most of the attention. As president from 2005 to 2007 of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the politically active sportsmen's group, she had been outspoken in opposing rules granting preference to rural subsistence users.
The Game Board has been in the midst of subsistence controversy in recent years as it tries to fashion a hunting regime for the road-accessible Nelchina caribou herd that satisfies both local subsistence users and thousands of hunters from Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Palin said she opposed a rural priority as a candidate, and Native voters responded warily. But the popular governor was well-received at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks last fall.
Things started turning sour after the Game Board appointments were announced last week. Paul Johnson, a Native from Unalakleet, was not reappointed to the board, and no other Native was added.
"This is a total annihilation of our subsistence way of life to have only 'road system' representatives on the Alaska Board of Game," said Myron Naneng of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents.
"She was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, but it's certainly not turning out that way for rural Alaska," said Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, who is also chairman of the Native federation. Some legislators, including non-Natives, said confirmation of Palin's appointments could be in trouble.
Adding to the controversy was the fact that Sager-Albaugh hadn't even applied for the position. She was recommended by the Department of Fish and Game, said Frank Bailey, director of state boards and commissions.
Kookesh said three candidates submitted by the Native federation were never interviewed.
The governor's office defended the appointments as "color-blind" and noted that Sager-Albaugh's family "lived off the land" near Tok.
Sager-Albaugh said she decided privately to withdraw her name Wednesday afternoon because of the mounting controversy.
Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor understands her reasoning and will submit another Game Board appointee to the Legislature soon.
Find Tom Kizzia online at adn.com/contact/tkizzia or call him at 907-235-4244.