Rossi to head wildlife division

Wildlife advocates worried newcomer may favor hunters

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A relative newcomer to a state agency who several wildlife advocates said is overly sympathetic to hunters at the expense of other groups has been selected to head the state Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Corey Rossi, who purportedly has close ties with former Gov. Sarah Palin and her family, starts his new job Tuesday. Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said he chose Rossi because he brings a can-do attitude to the agency's mission.

But not everyone is happy with the selection. Rossi represents a move toward a narrow wildlife management philosophy that will benefit extremist hunters - those that would artificially inflate moose and caribou numbers by removing massive numbers of predators, Alaska Wildlife Alliance director John Toppenberg said.

That approach will be at the expense of other user groups, such as wildlife viewers, whereas Doug Larsen, the man who Rossi replaces, had a more balanced approach, he said.

"With this appointment, it is my belief that the title of the organization that he now represents should be changed to the Division of Wildlife Killing," Toppenberg said.

Rossi most recently served in the newly created position of assistant commissioner for abundance management, beginning a little more than a year ago.

Toppenberg said numerous people both inside and outside Fish and Game have told him Palin hand-picked Rossi, a family friend, to fill the assistant commissioner's job.

E-mails sent to Palin aide Jason Recher seeking comment after business hours Friday were not immediately returned.

Rossi will replace Larsen, who is returning to his previous position as regional supervisor for the Southeast Region.

Removing Larsen and replacing him with Rossi is a violation of agency guidelines and "all commonsense ethics," Alaska Backcountry Hunters & Anglers co-chairman Mark Richards wrote in a letter sent to Lloyd on Friday.

Richards said the Palmer-based Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife lobbied for Larsen's removal so they could get someone sympathetic to them into the position. Rossi is listed as a SFW board member on the group's Web site.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife said in a statement this week that Rossi's ascent to the leadership position was due in part to the participation of SFW and other user groups over the past year.

"With Director Rossi at the wheel, we at SFW look forward to some real positive changes within the Department that are long overdue!" SFW Alaska executive director Dane Crowley said in the statement.

But Lloyd said Friday that Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife didn't unduly influence Rossi's appointment.

"No single idea or group is likely to determine a course of action," he said in an e-mail responding to questions from The Associated Press.

Rossi's selection wasn't meant to institute a change in policy, but to bring a more direct administrative approach to the division, Lloyd said.

He said he's developed an appreciation and trust in Rossi's management abilities after working with him for a year. Also, any relationship Rossi has with the Palin family had no bearing on his decision to select him, Lloyd said.

Palin named Lloyd as acting commissioner shortly after she became governor in December 2006, and he was appointed to the post two months later, according to the department's Web site.

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