Like many Alaskans who care about Alaska's wildlife management, I was flabbergasted by Gov. Sarah Palin's recent appointments to the Board of Game. What surprised me wasn't her narrow-minded thinking and disregard for rural Native interests but her audacity to eliminate any voices except those of urban hunters and trappers.
Perhaps her popularity with voters has gone to the governor's head and affected her normally good political sense.
For Palin to suggest the appointments reflected her administration's colorblindness or that "race is not going to be a factor" was either extremely naive or highly disingenuous. How could she ignore Alaska's rural Native population and expect people to believe she has the best interests of all Alaskans in mind, especially when for years the board has consisted largely of white, male, urban "sportsmen" who oppose a rural subsistence priority?
And what planet does director of state boards and commissions Frank Bailey live on? To argue "We wanted a good, solid Alaskan who would be fair and listen to both sides" would be laughable if it was not so pitiful. The board represents anything but fairness when larger issues of wildlife management come into play. Need I mention predator control, the McNeil sanctuary's bears and wolverine trapping in Chugach State Park?
I was encouraged, though, by the resulting storm of controversy and only wish that nonconsumptive users had half as many champions in the Alaska Legislature as Native rural residents do. No matter that the large majority of Alaskans neither hunt nor trap, nor that board decisions affect us greatly, we nonhunters and nontrappers don't get a whiff of consideration when it comes to the Board of Game.
Palin's recent picks do nothing more than reflect her values, which in turn mirror those of the Alaska Outdoor Council, a group whose philosophies for far too long have largely ruled the way the state manages wildlife. This is a group of mostly white, male, urban sport hunters who will do whatever they can to preserve -- or increase -- their opportunities to hunt moose and caribou and other prey species.
Palin -- and before her Gov. Frank Murkowski -- and others in state government responsible for wildlife management argue that only "the best people for the job" are appointed to the board, but there's plenty of evidence that ain't so. They further argue that hunters and trappers serve the board best, because what the board does is set hunting and trapping regulations.
But what Palin and others of her ilk conveniently ignore is this: While 90 percent or more of what the board does is not controversial, the other small fraction involves major wildlife-management policy issues that affect wildlife -- and people -- in and around places like McNeil River, Chugach State Park, Denali National Park, the Pack Creek bear-viewing area on Admiralty Island, Katmai National Park and Preserve -- the list goes on.
To deliberate policies that affect such areas without any nonconsumptive voice is both regrettable and troubling.
I should add here that the Alaska Outdoor Council and its representatives in state government constantly equate "nonconsumptive" and "nonhunter" with "anti." That's far from the truth. Take me, for example: To this point in my life I've been a nonhunter (unless you count fishing, which I consider a form of hunting), but I've eaten my share of wild game and have no problems whatever with hunting for meat, if done respectfully and ethically. I hope to someday go on a moose or caribou hunt; I don't know whether I'll pull the trigger, but I'd at least like to help with the harvest.
It's good that Alaska's Native peoples got a taste of what many of us white, urban nonhunters have experienced for years: complete disregard. And I found it hopeful that at least one Native leader, Ahtna president and CEO Ken Johns, specifically addressed the need for a more balanced board that represents the needs of subsistence and nonconsumptive users.
Even one token nonconsumptive voice would be a start.
Bill Sherwonit is a nature writer who's lived in Anchorage since 1982 and followed Board of Game deliberations since the mid-1980s.