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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Former Alaska Game Board Members Hunt for New Opinions on Panel

Letter to Gov. Palin asks for non-hunting viewpoints for board

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 11, 2009

FAIRBANKS - A dozen former Alaska Board of Game members sent a letter to Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday requesting more diversity on the seven-person board that regulates wildlife management in the state.

Specifically, the letter asks Palin to consider more representation of "nonconsumptive users," such as wildlife viewers, on the board.

"Nonconsumptive users of wildlife in Alaska include tens of thousands of residents and nonresidents alike who contribute significant revenue to the state through their activities," the letter stated. "Unfortunately, in recent years virtually all Game Board members were appointed to represent hunting and trapping interests.

"We strongly urge you to recruit and appoint future board members who can effectively represent both consumptive and nonconsumptive users of this state's wildlife," the letter read.

The letter was written by former Game Board member Joel Bennett of Juneau and was signed by 11 other former board members, including Julie Maier of Fairbanks.

Maier, a biology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, sat on the board for two years from 2001-03. Maier said she read the letter and agreed to sign it, though there were some parts that she didn't necessarily agree with.

"I would like to see more diversity, but I don't expect to because that's not Palin's call to fame," Maier said.

Other former Game Board members who signed the letter include Vic Van Ballenberghe of Anchorage; George Matz of Homer; R.T. Wallen of Juneau; Bruce Baker of Juneau; Jack Lentfer of Homer; Doug Pope of Anchorage; Walker Parker of Anchorage; Nicole Whittingham-Evans of Palmer; Tom Meacham of Anchorage; and Chip Dennerlein of Grants Pass, Ore.

From Maier's viewpoint, only one member on the current Game Board - Ben Grussendorf of Sitka - serves to represent nonconsumptive users.

"I don't necessarily think you have to have extremists on there, but I think it helps to have a broader representation," said Maier, a hunter who describes herself as a consumptive user. "Nonconsumptive users definitely do feel it's a waste of time to go to this board, and that's a shame."

Dick Burley, the lone Fairbanks representative on the current Game Board, disagreed with the letter.

"I feel this board has been very sensitive to all different groups and players," Burley said by cell phone from San Diego, where he was waiting to board a cruise ship to the Mexican Riviera.

The board will never make all user groups happy, whether they are hunters or wildlife viewers, Burley said.

"It's easy for people who have a decision made against what they want to say that the board doesn't represent their views," he said.

Palin's communications director, Bill McAllister, said the governor had not yet seen the letter and therefore had no comment.

"I don't think we can respond until we actually see the text," McAllister said.

The governor is responsible for appointing Game Board members, who then must be confirmed by the Alaska Legislature. The make-up of the board has been at issue for several years, with groups such as the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Defenders of Wildlife pushing for more balanced representation on the board, which they say is slanted almost exclusively toward hunting and trapping.

Wade Willis, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said he would like to see someone from the tourism industry appointed to the board. Tourism is the second-leading industry in Alaska, and wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people visit Alaska, he said.

"For the tourism industry, decisions made by the Board of Game are the number one image maker in this state," Willis said. "It's not that somebody from the tourism industry is going to say, 'No, we can't do predator control,' but they might say, 'We need to package it in a way to minimize the negative impact it has on the tourism industry.' "

Both Willis and Maier said nonconsumptive users have been largely ignored by the Game Board under the administrations of former Gov. Frank Murkowski and Gov. Palin. The letter sent to Palin by former Game Board members alluded to that fact.

Prior to Murkowski, vacancies on the Game Board were advertised and nominations were solicited from various groups, the letter stated. Now, the process is much more secretive and nominations are not shared or scrutinized like they used to be.

"Our perception now is that these practices no longer prevail and the rule seems to be that only input from hunting and trapping interests is valued," the letter read.

Maier would like to see more of a scientific voice represented on the Game Board. The more diverse the Game Board is, the more discussion there will be, she said.

"You know how diverse a board is by how much they deliberate," Maier said. "The meetings are much shorter now because there's no deliberation because they all agree. That's kind of a shame."

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.


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