FAIRBANKS - You might say the newest member of the Alaska Board of Game isn't part of the good, old boy network. Or you might not.
Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday appointed Teresa Sager-Albaugh of Tok to the state Board of Game, making her the only woman on the seven-member board that regulates hunting and trapping in Alaska.
Sager-Albaugh, 45, was appointed to the board a year ago but withdrew her name from consideration after her appointment ignited a controversy because for the first time since the board was created in 1975 there was not an Alaska Native on the board.
Palin ended up appointing Craig Fleener of Fort Yukon, who has since been named director of the state Division of Subsistence. Stosh Hoffman of Bethel replaced Fleener as the lone Native on the board.
Sager-Albaugh replaces Dick Burley of Fairbanks, who sat on the board for the past three years.
Her gender had nothing to do with her appointment to the board, said Frank Bailey, director of state boards and commissions.
"While we do seek diversity, we don't make appointments based on gender," Bailey wrote in an e-mail to the News-Miner. "Teresa's resume stacked up strongly against a pool of other applicants on its own merits. She is articulate and knowledgeable."
Bailey described Sager-Albaugh as "someone who takes the time to listen to all viewpoints and makes thoughtful and deliberate decisions."
Sager-Albaugh, who could not be reached for comment, beat out a pool of about 15 applicants for the post, Bailey said.
It's been almost three years since a woman last sat on the game board. Sharon McLeod-Everette of Fairbanks was the last female member, serving from March 2003 to March 2006.
Despite recent pleas from conservation groups and several former Board of Game members to appoint representatives from "nonconsumptive" interests such as wildlife viewing and tourism, Palin's appointment of Sager-Albaugh and her re-appointment of board chairman Cliff Judkins of Wasilla indicate the governor is sticking with game board members with strong ties to hunting and trapping.
Palin, whose support of aerial predator control drew national attention during the presidential campaign and continues to generate attacks from animal-rights activists, has said several times that she will do what it takes to manage Alaska's wildlife resources for abundance.
Sager-Albaugh was president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest sportsmen's group, from 2005-07. She has stated her support of the state's aerial wolf control program to boost moose and caribou numbers where needed. Judkins, who was named to the board by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2003 and has been on the board for six years, also is a vocal supporter of predator control.
Former game board member Joel Bennett of Juneau, who wrote a letter to Palin last month signed by he and 11 other former board members asking for more diversity on the board, said he was disappointed by the appointment of Sager-Albaugh and the re-appointment of Judkins but not surprised.
He said the current board is one-sided toward hunting and trapping. There should be a certain number of seats dedicated to other interest groups, Bennett said.
"We don't see much diversity here; that's kind of our ongoing concern," Bennett said.
While he doesn't intend to give up his fight to get a more diversified game board, Bennett said, "It's hard not to be cynical."
The Alaska branch of Defenders of Wildlife, which also has pleaded for more non-hunter representation on the game board, issued a press release decrying the appointments of Sager-Albaugh and Judkins.
"Alaska wildlife should be managed for the benefit of all Alaskans, not only the minority of us who hunt," said Wade Willis, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "Despite repeated appeals from her constituents, Gov. Palin did nothing to improve the Board of Game's diversity of views with these appointments."
It marks the first time in 12 years that there has not been a representative from Fairbanks on the game board, though Sager-Albaugh was born and raised in Fairbanks before moving to Tok more than 20 years ago.
The board has four members from Southcentral, one from Southeast, one from Western Alaska and one from the Interior.
Although Burley told the governor that he would be willing to serve another term on the board, he didn't mind being passed over Sager-Albaugh, whom he described as "a very sharp young lady." There had been some discussion about not having a woman on the board, and the fact that she is a woman and a rural resident was a bonus, he said.
"I think she'll do an excellent job," he said.
The fact there isn't anyone on the game board who lives north of Tok is a concern to the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks, said Mike Smith, TCC's director of subsistence resource management. That equates to more than half the state and nearly all the villages TCC represents are north of Tok, he said.
Sager-Albaugh's strong ties to the Alaska Outdoor Council, which has long opposed a rural subsistence preference, can't be ignored, either, Smith said.
Still, it won't affect how TCC approaches the game board, he said.
Burley, a pilot, served on the game board for the past three years, starting in March 2006. He also served on the board for six years under Gov. Wally Hickel, from 1991 to 1997. His nine years on the game board make him one of the longest tenured members since the board was created in 1975.
"I'm happy with the fact the department and (game) board were finally able to get some predator management done and start fulfilling statutory requirements that were passed," Burley said, referring to the state's intensive management law. "There are some other things I would have liked to seen done but you have to take it as it comes."