Ex-game board members promote diversity

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Former members of the state Board of Game members want to see more diversity on the seven-person panel that regulates wildlife management in the state.

A dozen former board members asked Gov. Sarah Palin in a letter to consider more representation of "nonconsumptive users," such as wildlife viewers, on the board.

"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," says the letter sent Thursday. "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."

Former board member Joel Bennett of Juneau wrote the letter and it was signed by 11 other former members.

Among them was Julie Maier, a biology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As far as she is concerned, only one member on the current board - Ben Grussendorf of Sitka - serves to represent nonconsumptive users.

"I don't necessarily think you have to have extremists on there, but I think it helps to have a broader representation," said Maier, a hunter. "Nonconsumptive users definitely do feel it's a waste of time to go to this board, and that's a shame."

Current board member Dick Burley disagreed with the letter.

"I feel this board has been very sensitive to all different groups and players," he said.

Burley said the board will never make all user groups happy, whether they are hunters or wildlife viewers.

"It's easy for people who have a decision made against what they want to say that the board doesn't represent their views," he said.

Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor had not yet seen the letter and therefore had no comment.

The governor is responsible for appointing game board members, who then are confirmed by state legislators.

The makeup of the board has been at issue for several years, with such organizations as the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Defenders of Wildlife pushing for more balanced representation.

Wade Willis, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said he would like to see a travel industry representative appointed to the board. Tourism is the second-leading industry in the state, and wildlife viewing is one of the primary reasons people visit Alaska, he said.

"For the tourism industry, decisions made by the Board of Game are the number one image maker in this state," Willis said.

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