Alaska's newest Board of Game member will also be its youngest, but Stanley "Stosh" Hoffman has lived enough years to see the boom-and-bust cycle of predator and prey around the Kuskokwim River village where he grew up.
Now 38, Hoffman was 12 in the early 1980s when he killed his first moose hunting with his father in the wilderness around McGrath. That year, he saw 14 bulls in a single day. These days, hunters in the area don't see that many in a month, he said.
Wolves, on the other hand, were so sparse that Hoffman remembers sitting around the campfire as a boy, hoping to hear one howl. He never did, despite frequent trips into the country.
"I'd dream of seeing a wolf, but I never saw their tracks, much less heard them," said Hoffman.
A little more than a decade later, he began finding their footprints every time he stepped onto a riverbank, said Hoffman, who now lives in Bethel.
Wolves, along with bears, had knocked down the moose population around McGrath, he said.
"It just shows you how things can change drastically," he said.
The seven-member board Hoffman joins has long been in the cross hairs of environmental groups, largely because of its support of aerial wolf kills in the McGrath area and other sections of the state where moose or caribou numbers are considered low. Hoffman said he'll make decisions about aerial wolf-control and other predator-control measures on a case-by-case basis. In addition to wolves and bears, other factors such as humans can also contribute to low moose and caribou numbers.
Hoffman plans to consider all the evidence before implementing new measures.
"I like to hear both sides on every issue before making a decision," he said. "I really sincerely believe in education and the science behind it."
Owns three businesses
Hoffman, who owns three businesses in Bethel and manages buildings for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., has no experience in wildlife management. But he brings a first-hand knowledge that includes a strong subsistence and commercial background in hunting and fishing.
Hoffman, a Yup'ik, will be the only Alaska Native on the board that establishes hunting seasons and bag limits around the state. For years, he's traveled upriver to hunt for moose near McGrath and subsistence fishes each summer with his wife, Anastasia, and their two boys.
He's a commercial fisherman, and has also worked as an assistant big game guide on the Hoholitna River. His boss was guide Peter Shepherd, a retired Fish and Game employee who served as the area biologist in the 1970s for the lower Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers.
Shepherd, reached at his home in Nevada, said Hoffman will make a good addition to the board.
"He has excellent knowledge of the resources in the Kuskokwim River drainage area and he knows the animals real well," Shepherd said.
Gov. Sarah Palin appointed Hoffman on Nov. 13. The decision lacked the controversy that preceded her last appointment of an Alaska Native.
Earlier this year, Palin filled three open seats on the board, but left it without a single Native. Native leaders and legislators protested loudly. In response, Teresa Sager-Albaugh withdrew her nomination, allowing Palin to select Craig Fleener, an Athabascan from Fort Yukon.
In October, Fleener resigned to become head of Fish and Game's subsistence division, opening the way for Hoffman's selection.
The Game Board plays a vital role in the lives of Alaska Natives whose diet depends on fish and game, said Hoffman.
"I think it's crucial that we have a voice (on the board), especially since this area is one of the largest subsistence areas in the state," he said, referring to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Hoffman will bring a crucial viewpoint on traditional hunting methods and should help board members stay up to speed on subsistence issues, said Cliff Judkins, chairman.
"There certainly needs to be more diversity on the board," he said.
Hoffman applied for the open seat because he felt the state can do a better job of educating hunters. For example, the rules can change so frequently from one area to the next that some people break the law without knowing it.
"I would really like to push education, especially on the younger people, about the benefits of following the rules and how that can help the whole system," he said.
Alex DeMarban can be reached at 907-348-2444 or 800-770-9830, ext. 444.