Palin appoints Native to Board of Game

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sarah Palin moved rapidly Friday to make a new appointment to the Board of Game, and in doing so quieted a storm of protest from Native leaders and lawmakers.

Palin appointed Craig Fleener of Fort Yukon to replace Teresa Sager-Albaugh, a former president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest outdoor sportsmen's organization.

Sager-Albaugh from the Tok area withdrew her name Wednesday as anger mounted among lawmakers over the governor's three appointees to the seven-member board. If those appointees had been confirmed, the game board would have had no Native member on it since it was formed in 1976.

The board is responsible for setting hunting and trapping regulations statewide.

Fleener, reached in Anchorage where he is taking a class to complete his master's degree in wildlife biology, said he has lived in both rural and urban Alaska and can bring that perspective to the board. He is familiar, he said, with a subsistence lifestyle, both his own and others, while at the same time being closely associated with sport hunters and commercial fishermen.

"I probably bring a unique perspective of both sides of the issues," he said.

Some Native lawmakers and leaders said it was essential that a Native be on the board. Others, such as Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, felt the more serious problem was that the board would have no one who had lived off the road system and truly understood life in the Bush.

Fleener negates both those complaints. He is Athabaskan and from Fort Yukon, a town of about 600 residents about 145 air miles from Fairbanks.

Olson said the governor did the right thing in picking Fleener.

"She was sensitive enough to go and answer the objections," he said.

Fleener, who has served in the military for more than 21 years, is an intelligence officer in the Alaska Air National Guard and is stationed at Eielson Air Force Base. He is married with four children.

Fleener has served as executive director of the Council of Athabaskan Tribal Governments. He also has worked as an environmental manager, project coordinator and wildlife biologist.

He's served on numerous committees and boards including Gwich'in Council International, Alaska Native Health Board and Eastern Interior Subsistence Federal Regional Advisory Committee. He also was deputy mayor of Fort Yukon.

He holds a bachelor of science degree in natural resources management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"This guy fits the bill. He is Native, an educated Native," said Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, who had said that Palin made a serious misstep in passing over qualified Native candidates for the board. "This guy is exceptionally bright."

Kookesh said he appreciated that the governor checked in with him and two other Native lawmakers Friday morning before appointing Fleener to take Sager-Albaugh's place.

Talk had circulated in Juneau that if the governor remained committed to her appointees and nothing changed, lawmakers would not confirm them.

Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, said she was very pleased with Fleener's appointment but remained concerned that there was no one on the board from Southeast Alaska.

"It was a positive resolution to a potentially very thorny issue," she said.

Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, voiced a similar complaint. While it is good that Fleener is a Native and familiar with life off the road system, his understanding of game management issues in western Alaska is limited, Naneng said.

"When you discuss issues regarding the interior of Alaska, it is not the same," he said. "She is making at least a little step further, but not far enough."

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