The acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Cora Campbell, is a 31-year-old woman from Petersburg with a college degree in education, a long family history in the commercial fishing business, and a reputation for having served two governors well. Her father, Gary Slaven, was once chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Those who know the daughter say she is smart.
State e-mails indicate she had the sense to caution former shadow Gov. Todd Palin, a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman, against telling his wife and then-Gov. Sarah, to invite floating processors into the bay to alleviate the fears of fellow fishermen of a possible market glut of salmon. A market glut would, of course, drive down prices, and no fisherman wants that.
ampbell, then Cora Crome, wisely warned that inviting in floating processors in an effort to keep salmon prices high in a fishery in which the Palins were working could raise ethics problems for the governor.
And, as everyone knows, Gov. Palin had ethics problems. They were some of the reasons she said she quit halfway through her term. There were too many complaints, she said. That Campbell helped Sarah avoid another one is to Campbell's credit. So is the fact that Gov. Sean Parnell, the governor now in charge, says he likes and trusts her.
These are the facts on which she should stand for confirmation before the Alaska Legislature, and the rest of the crap being uttered by her supporters, with a hint of the same coming out of her office, should stop now.
Campbell does not have "decades'' of experience in Alaska fisheries, as some of her supporters claimed this week, and she has not, as claimed on the ADF&G website, "been working in the fishing industry since the early 1990s."
Campbell was 11 years old in 1990. She would have been 16 by the middle of the decade. In the early 1990s, she might have been riding along on her dad's fishing boat at times; she might even have been pitching in on deck. But she certainly wasn't working in the sense that any adults know working unless Slaven was beating her with a whip like some modern day version of Jack London's "Wolf Larsen,'' the captain of the vessel "Ghost'' in the novel "The Sea Wolf.'' And I truly, truly doubt that.
What Campbell, or her staff, is doing now is engaging in what you might call "resume inflation." It's the wrong road to head down.
It came to a head this week when the Grand Camp of the Alaska Native Brotherhood voiced the opinion that the Legislature should refuse to confirm Campbell as commissioner because of her limited experience.
"We have serious concerns that someone so young and inexperienced and who has such close ties to the commercial fishing industry will lack the maturity and judgment to negotiate the difficult issues facing Alaska and to serve the many constituents for Alaska's wildlife resources," the Brotherhood's Richard Jackson said. "We are urging Gov. Parnell to broaden the search for qualified candidates and to weigh the concerns of the ANB-ANS Grand Camp."
This led one of her supporters to pick up the commissioner's suggestion of lengthy experience and run with it.
"With two decades working in the fishing industry and as a fishing advocate I would think that gives her plenty of experience," Petersburg Vessel Owners Association Executive Director Julianne Curry subsequently told the Juneau Empire, the Capital City newspaper. "I have worked along side her and watched her work ethic. She has the ability to look at issues form all sides. [sic]"
Curry, the newspaper noted, "is also the Subsistence Chair on the United Fishermen of Alaska Board and on NPFMC (North Pacific Fisheries Management Council) Advisory Panel.'' The newspaper did not mention that one of Campbell's jobs, before she went to work for Palin, was as a Curry predecessor as the director of the Petersburg commercial fishermen's group.
The paper did, however, report "Campbell spent 2005-07 working on a subsistence program, funded by a grant by the United Fishermen of Alaska, which was instrumental in getting information to multiple agencies and fishing and subsistence groups a[t] a time when federal subsistence regulation began to diverge from state regulations."
The accurate translation of that gobbledygook is that Campbell worked for UFA to try to figure out how to keep federal subsistence programs from slicing ever bigger chunks out of the commercial fishing business in Alaska. There is nothing wrong with that. Fisheries allocation is a zero-sum game in the 49th state. If subsistence or, for that matter sport, fishermen are to gain an extra fish, there are only two places it can come from -- the spawning stock, which everyone professes a desire to protect, or the commercial fisheries, which net more than 90 percent of the salmon caught in Alaska every year.
She claims a willingness to be fair, and her answer to the criticism from the Native Brotherhood was a good one, a very good one. Commercial fishermen have a big and extremely legitimate dog in the hunt for what is commonly called "fisheries allocation.'' They have every right to hire competent people to protect their interests, and Campbell was by all accounts competent. She also said, in an interview and e-mail exchanges in recent week, that she put this advocacy for commercial fishermen behind her when she went to work for government.
"It appears I need to do some outreach with ANB because if they were familiar with me, or my work, I don't think they would have made that statement," she told the Empire. "I am very aware of Native subsistence issues and very sensitive to subsistence issues for all Alaskans."
Whether she is or she isn't, whether she has the experience or not, is something the Legislature is going to need to sort out. I lived in Juneau when I was Campbell's age, and I thought myself, too, "very aware of Native subsistence issues and very sensitive subsistence issues for all Alaskans.'' Then I went back north to Anchorage (I'd lived in Fairbanks in the mid-1970s) to rediscover just how different that part of the state north of the Panhandle is.
A bunch of islands, the Alexander Archipelago, rising from a rich marine ecosystem comprise Southeast Alaska. The trees grow huge and tall, and the wildlife is plentiful. The Tlingits who dominated before white folks arrived, and still more than hold their own in the region, defended the place aggressively because they understood the bounty into which they had stumbled.
Little of that bounty has changed in 10,000 years. Couple this to the fact the population of the region remains comparatively small -- about 75,000 people with nearly half of them in Juneau -- and subsistence gets easy. There's pretty much enough for everyone and anyone who wants to pursue a dream, wish or fantasy of living off the land in whole or in part. When I lived there, I shot all the deer we needed to eat every year and could have shot dozens more, albeit in violation of bag limits, with no harm to the resource.
Friends who were commercial fisheries biologists for the state joked that it was sad how badly wildlife was managed in the region. They were of the opinion that deer should be managed for maximum sustained yield, which would have allowed me to "harvest'' a whole lot more every year. Southeast is a land of plenty.
It is simply not like this in most of Alaska. In most of Alaska, subsistence is a nightmare because there really isn't enough to go around. Given this, there are tough questions to be faced: Do you restrict the ways in which people hunt to give many the chance to engage in the culturally important pursuit of wild game even if they are unlikely to find success? Or do you limit the hunt to a relative handful to maximize the chances that the people who need wild game to subsist will really be the ones who get it?
There are about 80,000 people living in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough these days. The harvestable surplus of moose is between 600 and 700 per year. Demand for moose so outstrips supply that somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 Alaskans pay $5 each to enter the annual drawing for 400 or so cow moose permits in the area. Others, meanwhile, lobby for killing every bear and wolf that can be found to try to boost the moose population so more people can shoot one.
The reality, unfortunately, is that the state could kill every bear -- black or grizzly -- and every wolf in the borough, and there still wouldn't be enough of those big, four-legged ungulates to put a moose in every freezer, though we might get close. But then, of course, the question is this: At what cost?
Bear watchers and bear hunters, oddly enough, both like to have some bears around. Wolf watchers and wolf trappers, oddly enough, both like to have some wolves around. The compromises that need to be made to satisfy all interests are not easy ones. The job that needs to be done -- the job of the Commissioner of Fish and Game -- to keep state biologists from getting caught up in the partisanship that surrounds these issues, not to mention fried at the stake by various partisans, is an even bigger one.
Is Campbell up to it? Does she have enough experience at her age? I don't know. Are those fair questions to be asked? Most definitely.
Does trying to create some new experiences out of whole cloth help? No way. She's not the wise elder, and no amount of resume inflation is going to make her into one.
And unless Cora Campbell was some sort of child prodigy in Petersburg, it's hard to imagine she was paying much more attention to fish and wildlife management at the age of 11 than the rest of us. I could gut a deer and fillet a fish myself quite nicely at that age, but as to understanding the functions of ecosystems or complexities of politics, well, no.
So let's knock off this effort to make Campbell someone she isn't and talk about what matters, not yesterday, but tomorrow, when a 31-year-old woman from Petersburg goes into the office to try to perform well at one of the politically toughest jobs in the state. Is Campbell up to that job? All most of us can do is hope so, because no matter what the Legislature does, she's going to be acting commissioner for a while.
Craig Medred's opinions are his own. Contact him at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com