Alaska editorial: Board of Game bill smells like politics

This editorial appeared in Friday's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ..." And so Shakespeare eloquently points out that something is what it is, not what it is named. Some Shakespearean lore even has it that the phrase from Romeo and Juliet may have been a sideswipe at the Globe Theatre's rival, the Rose, which was said to have less than adequate sanitary arrangements.

So perhaps a bill introduced last week to change the name of the Board of Game to the Board of Wildlife and increase its membership from seven people to nine is just a swipe that says the current board smells a little too gamey?

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, sponsor of the bill that would change the board's name, argues the change would give wildlife viewers and other nonconsumptive users a foothold on a board he says is dominated by hunters and trappers.

Whatever their scent, on Thursday this crew of seven dove into a two-week meeting in Fairbanks. They have 272 proposals in front of them that deal with Interior hunting and trapping regulations.

Do we really need to add to the expense and further complicate the state's already costly board process, so someone who is not interested in those activities can add their perspective to questions such as those raised by Proposal No. 184, submitted by James Sears of Galena? The proposal would "expand muskrat trapping season in Unit 21 and allow open water trapping."

How about Proposal No. 236 from Lenard Haire of McGrath? That one would, "remove the 40 horsepower boat motor restriction in the Holitna Controlled Use Areas in Unit 19." True, the board is taking up much more volatile issues this time around. Liberalized bear hunting regulations and trapping seasons near Denali Park are just a couple that are of broad political appeal.

Ellis expressed dismay at the board's willingness to accept predator-control measures, and that likely is at the root of the bill, which smells more like a political statement than a true attempt at fixing the board.

"There are people in this state who value nonconsumptive uses and they should be represented," Ellis told reporters.

True enough, and current members of the board do value these so-called nonconsumptive uses. The roles of hunter and bird watcher are not mutually exclusive. It does not take an eco-tour operator to realize the value of bear-viewing opportunities at places like McNeil River.

The bill seeks to spell out the membership make-up of the board, but this is new and dangerous ground that could set precedent for any number of boards and complicate our state's system of ruling boards and commissions.

Sure, we grumble that the Board of Fish generally doesn't have enough sport fishing or Interior Alaska representation, but we continue to lobby for our interests and appointments that suit our tastes. Expanding the board and spelling out designated seats to keep all political factions happy is not practical.

How long and protracted will the debate become over how many of each political group should be represented on each board?

Murkowski's appointments to the game board have leaned heavily toward hunters and trappers. The administration of Gov. Tony Knowles tended to lean the other direction. Appointments to the board come from the governor and rely on confirmation by the Legislature.

Changes on the board have and will continue to come by a vote of the people for different leadership.

It's an idea as old as democracy itself - if you think the names in leadership stink, vote for leadership by a different name.

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