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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Alaska Board of Game Should Represent the Views of All Residents

Community Perspective / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 18, 2009

Editor's note: The following letter signed by 12 former members of Alaska's Board of Game was sent to Gov. Sarah Palin on Jan. 8. Their names appear at the end the of the letter.

As former Board of Game members we strongly endorse the concept that the board's makeup should reflect the broad diversity of interests in Alaska's wildlife resources. These interests include consumptive uses of wildlife by hunters and trappers as well as nonconsumptive uses by those who view, photograph and enjoy animals without harvesting them. 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. 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 Board of Game is the state's regulatory authority that is mandated by law to conserve and develop Alaska's wildlife resources for the benefit of all Alaskans. Often, the board's actions regarding hunting and trapping are compatible with nonconsumptive uses, but on occasion they are not. In the past, the board has considered special regulations when that conflict was apparent. We believe that tradition should continue. There are special places that offer highly valued wildlife experiences where hunting and trapping are prohibited. In Alaska, for example, we have the McNeil River Falls bear viewing area, a world-famous site with unique wildlife viewing opportunities. The Game Board has regulatory authority over this area and on adjacent lands and it is important to have Board members who understand, value and respect the world-class values of protecting the bears that annually visit the falls.

There are many other areas where wildlife viewing is encouraged by board regulations but we believe there are some instances the board has failed to adequately consider the importance of nonconsumptive uses. One recent example is the wolverine trapping season established in Chugach State Park. This area, adjacent to Alaska's largest population center, has few wolverines and biological information indicates that their current harvest is not sustainable. Many Alaskans think that these wolverines should not be trapped and should be managed for viewing. The result of the trapping is diminished public confidence in the Board. We think that a Board with one or more members sensitive to the importance of nonconsumptive uses would not have permitted wolverine trapping in the Park.

Over the past four decades virtually all states have recognized the importance of protecting, conserving and enhancing opportunities for nonconsumptive uses of wildlife as the number of hunters has declined and wildlife viewing has increased. In Alaska, hunting was down 24 percent while viewing was up 22 percent from 2001 to 2006, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tourism is Alaska's second largest industry and is responsible for employing well over 14 percent of the state's residents. The Alaska Department of Commerce states that an estimated 1.7 million out-of-state visitors came to Alaska in 2007 and generated $1.6 billion in revenue. Of the activities Alaska's visitors participated in, wildlife viewing was the second most popular activity as reported to the department. Game Board decisions that fail to take wildlife viewing into account have a tremendous impact on this industry, especially in regards to the intensive management law. Effectively addressing the concerns of all user groups is essential in developing programs mandated by this law, in particular predator control programs.

In the past, board members have been appointed who were both consumptive and non-consumptive users. In addition, Gov. Jay Hammond announced that he would appoint one or more members of the Game Board to represent nonconsumptive users. This tradition was continued by Govs. Sheffield, Cowper and Knowles, but apparently lapsed during Gov. Murkowski's administration. We strongly encourage you to revive these traditions.

We also note that past administrations actively advertised vacancies on the Game Board and openly solicited nominations and endorsements. Staff of the boards and commissions office communicated broadly with various interest groups and obtained input from all. As lists of names of those who applied or were nominated for seats became available, they were shared and input was welcomed. 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. We strongly urge you to reopen the process of nominating and endorsing Board candidates so that the best possible candidates emerge, including candidates with broad and varied interests in wildlife management, conservation and protection.

Our experiences on the Game Board created a profound respect for the board process and a deep appreciation for the importance of the board's actions as they affect the lives of both Alaska's residents and those who visit here. While we understand fully that the board deals mainly with regulations and policies that govern wildlife harvesting, we know that the board must also understand the significance of nonconsumptive uses. This is possible only if board members have the necessary experience and background in this area. Continued failure to appoint such candidates will perpetuate the widely held belief that the Game Board represents only hunters and trappers. Large numbers of people who view, photograph and enjoy wildlife need representation on the Board and you alone can provide it.

The above letter to Gov. Palin was signed by Joel Bennett, R.T. Wallen and Bruce Baker of Juneau; Vic Van Ballenberghe, Doug Pope, Walter Parker and Tom Meacham of Anchorage; George Matz, Fritz Creek; Jack Lentfer, Homer; Julie Maier, Fairbanks; Nicole Whittington-Evans, Palmer; and, Chip Dennerlein


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