FAIRBANKS — A group of former biologists and supervisors with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has written a letter to department Commissioner Denby Lloyd and Gov. Sean Parnell protesting the recent appointment of Corey Rossi as the state’s new wildlife director.
Rossi lacks the academic and professional experience to run the state’s wildlife department, states the letter, signed by 39 retired biologists and supervisors who have an average of just under 20 years of state service each. Rossi, who Lloyd appointed to replace Doug Larsen as director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation on March 11, does not have a college degree.
“This appointment marks a departure from the standard of science-based management for which the department has always been recognized,” the letter reads. “We believe this appointment will erode staff morale, result in resignations, reduce broad public support for state wildlife management, and potentially jeopardize some wildlife resources that the division manages for all citizens of the state.”
The protesters claim that Rossi’s appointment was based on politics, not science, and is a sign that the state is focused solely on producing more moose and caribou for hunters without any consideration to issues like habitat protection, endangered species management and wildlife viewing.
“We are concerned that this high-profile leadership change is a signal that professional management will be replaced by a simplistic abundance management model where maximum production of wild game meat is the state of Alaska’s single, overriding objective,” the letter read, citing a recent column written by Rossi that appeared in the News-Miner and Anchorage Daily News.
Rossi’s appointment as the state’s new wildlife director a week and a half ago prompted a similar reaction from conservation groups such as the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Alaska Backcountry Anglers and Hunters.
Rossi joined the department in January 2009 after spending 20 years working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. He has been a strong proponent of predator control since being appointed to a newly created position of assistant commissioner for abundance management by Lloyd a little more than a year ago, a fact some contend is why he has climbed the department ladder so quickly.
His friendly ties with former Gov. Sarah Palin, who appointed Lloyd after being elected in 2006, also have been mentioned as reason for his quick administrative ascent, though Lloyd has denied that allegation. Palin’s parents, Sally and Chuck Heath, are listed as references on Rossi’s resume.
Lloyd, reached via e-mail on Monday, said he had yet to review the letter and offered no comment.
An e-mail sent to the governor’s office was not returned, neither did Rossi reply to an e-mail inquiry as of 5 p.m.
Former Fairbanks bear biologist Harry Reynolds, who worked for the Department of Fish and Game for 33 years, was one of the biologists who signed the letter.
“The main thing is the unidirectional approach,” Reynolds said, citing his reasons for signing the letter. “It has to be more than working toward predator relief.”
Ken Whitten, a Fairbanks biologist who spent 24 years with the department specializing in Dall sheep and caribou, signed the letter for much the same reason.
“We’re concerned about the general direction the department is going in,” Whitten said. “Intensive management is the law of the land, but it’s not the only mission the department has.”
The fact that Rossi, whose background is in federal animal control, does not possess an academic degree that would qualify him for a biologist position with the department is an insult, Whitten and others who signed the letter said.
“A background with federal animal control does not qualify Mr. Rossi to lead an organization of professional wildlife biologists, research scientists, biometricians and other wildlife professionals,” the letter states. “Science, rather than politics, should be the guiding philosophy of professional leadership which should also include the appropriate academic training and professional experience.”
The unifying factor for many of those who signed the letter was “the concern that a particular interest group was able to influence the hiring of Corey Rossi,” said Whitten, referring to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a Palmer-based group with Fairbanks ties that claimed partial credit for Rossi’s appointment.
Lloyd denies that Rossi’s hiring was influenced by any particular group.
While people who signed the letter are not opposed to intensive management, they are concerned about “how quickly it’s going without basic scientific information,” Whitten said. He pointed to a bear snaring program in part of Southcentral that Rossi pushed for and helped implement, as well as the elimination of grizzly bear tag fees in Interior game units.
Other notable Fairbanks biologists who signed the letter include David Klein, a respected wildlife professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who worked five years with the Alaska Game Commission early in his career; John Wright, a management and research biologist for 23 years; Kathy Frost, a marine mammal research biologist for 25 years; Lloyd Lowery, state marine mammals coordinator for 25 years; and Herb Melchior, a management biologist and refuge manage for 20 years.
“In summary, we do not have confidence in the new leadership of the Division of Wildlife Conservation and urge you to reconsider this decision,” the letter concluded.
The group requested a written response from Lloyd.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.
by Tim Mowry / email@example.com