I am proud of the five former Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioners who stood up for the department's Habitat Division in their My Turn column in the Feb. 2 Juneau Empire. I hope the ADF&G commissioner Gov. Murkowski appoints will be as strong as his or her predecessors have been in explaining the essential role of the department in protecting Alaska's fish and wildlife. Our commercial, sport, and subsistence fishing and hunting economies are totally dependent on healthy and abundant populations. Wildlife and fish are two of the biggest reasons visitors from around the world are drawn to Alaska. Most Alaskans understand that to produce these populations, we need to protect as much of the habitat that produces them as possible.
Ensuring this protection and at the same time providing for economic development is often the most difficult challenge facing government and industry officials. If anyone says it's easy, they are not being truthful with themselves or the public. With the absolutely essential help of biologists in other ADF&G divisions, the Habitat Division has been able to help these five former commissioners and their governors protect fish and wildlife habitats and allow development projects to proceed without undue delay and in a way that is defensible enough to prevent successful lawsuits by either developers or conservationists.
I was disappointed to hear the governor criticize the Habitat Division in his State-of-the-State address. He should praise the meritorious duty of the division, find ways to ensure that it is adequately funded, and recognize the division would be emasculated if removed from ADF&G where all the state's fish and wildlife expertise resides. He should make time to visit Habitat Division and other ADF&G staffs in their offices or, better yet, in the field to ensure that he has a good understanding of the important work they perform. In so doing, the governor would demonstrate constructive leadership and would give the Habitat Division and the rest of ADF&G the support they need to help protect the habitats so essential to the survival of the fish and wildlife populations that Alaskans so cherish.