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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Game Board

Hunters, Trappers, Viewers Too

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / January 13, 2009

In 2006, Gov. Sarah Palin campaigned on her devotion to the Alaska Constitution. In that light, she should take seriously a letter from former members of the state Board of Game that urges representation for wildlife viewers on the board.

The reason is simple. The constitution requires that Alaska's fish and game be managed for the benefit of all Alaskans. Alaskans include hunters, fishers, trappers, photographers, painters, gatherers and viewers.

Some Alaskans benefit from game directly through hunting and trapping for meat, fur and cash income. They are an important constituency, but they are also a minority, while all Alaskans can benefit from wildlife viewing.

And all Alaskans benefit from an abundance of wildlife that draws millions of viewers from around the world. These are people who don't draw a bow, pull the trigger or set a trap, but contribute substantially to Alaska's economy.

Those who believe that Alaskans who don't hunt and trap have no stake and therefore no right to a say in Game Board decisions are flat wrong. And those who believe that hunter and viewer or trapper and viewer are mutually exclusive terms also are flat wrong. Many Alaskans are both.

Alaska should have a game board that represents and strives to reconcile the interests of both.

Clearly, it's called the "game" board for a reason. Most of its work involves the management of hunting and trapping to provide maximum opportunities within the limits of sustained yield, protection of the species and the benefit of all Alaskans.

Some have argued that it should be renamed Board of Wildlife to reflect broader interests. We're less interested in the name than in the representation.

To paraphrase former board member Julie Maier, this isn't an invitation to PETA. It's a recognition that all Alaskans have a stake in wildlife issues.

That's fair, realistic and constitutional. We hope that's how the governor sees it.

BOTTOM LINE: Game Board membership should reflect interests beyond hunting and trapping.

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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