FAIRBANKS – Former state Sen. Ralph Seekins, of Fairbanks, said there was no “witch hunt” to replace the state’s wildlife boss, but that’s exactly what critics of the change see.
Seekins is a founder and president of the Alaska chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a group some people say is responsible for last week’s appointment of Corey Rossi as the state’s new wildlife director. Rossi also is an SFW founder, though he is no longer active with the group, Seekins said.
“We weren’t headhunting anyone,” Seekins said on Monday. “Anybody who says so is absolutely out of bounds.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd appointed Rossi to replace Doug Larsen as the director of the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation a week ago.
Rossi has been a strong advocate of predator control and intensive management for wildlife in Alaska since being appointed to his previous post a year ago, a fact that some say is why he was named to replace the more moderate Larsen.
“With this appointment, it is my belief that the title of the organization that he now represents should be changed to the Division of Wildlife Killing,” Alaska Wildlife Alliance director John Toppenberg said.
Rossi represents a move toward a narrow wildlife management philosophy that will benefit those who want to inflate moose and caribou numbers by removing massive numbers of predators, Toppenberg said. That approach will be at the expense of other user groups, he said.
Mark Richards, co-chairman for Alaska Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, agreed. Removing Larsen and replacing him with Rossi is a violation of agency guidelines and “all common-sense ethics,” he wrote in a letter sent to Lloyd on Friday protesting the change.
Rossi is a relative newcomer to the Department of Fish and Game. He was appointed to a newly created position of assistant commissioner for abundance management a little more than a year ago by Lloyd after working as district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Wasilla.
Rossi, who is friends with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who appointed Lloyd, starts his new job today.
Lloyd said he chose Rossi because he brings a “can-do attitude” to the agency’s mission, not because of his close ties to SFW or Palin.
The commissioner said he’s developed an appreciation and trust in Rossi’s management abilities after working with him for a year. Any relationship Rossi has with Palin had no bearing on his decision to select him, Lloyd said.
Rossi’s selection wasn’t meant to institute a change in policy but to bring a more direct administrative approach to the division, the commissioner said.
SFW, in a news release issued last week, indicated it was at least partially responsible for the change in leadership.
“This move toward more results-driven leadership was due in large part to the process and participation of SFW and other user groups over the past 12 months,” SFW executive director Dane Crowley wrote. “Without your involvement at meetings, elections and your hand-written input regarding the department, this type of position shift would not have been possible.”
Crowley went on to say, “With Director Rossi at the wheel, we at SFW look forward to some real positive changes with the department that are long overdue.”
But Seekins said SFW “didn’t lobby for any particular individual” to replace Larsen. The group has been complaining about Larsen’s “opposition to management for abundance,” as he put it, for more than a year.
Specifically, Larsen’s resistance to a bear-culling program in part of Southcentral that allowed the use of snares to trap bears, as well as helicopters to transport bear hunters to remote areas, raised red flags for SFW, Seekins said.
“We’ve just seen a general approach that did not support and actively was in opposition to managing for abundance,” Seekins said of Larsen, who was returned to his original post as regional supervisor for Southeast. “We just basically brought those concerns to the commissioner and to the governor’s office.
“We didn’t think we were getting the support we should have,” he said of SFW. “We started complaining about that a year ago.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.