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Former wildlife employees seek to oust agency head

Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Dozens of former state employees are seeking to oust Alaska's new wildlife director, saying in a letter sent Monday to the governor that the man who listed Sarah Palin's parents as references lacks the education and scientific training for the job.

Corey Rossi, formerly the state's assistant commissioner for abundance management, took over the post at the Division of Wildlife Conservation last week. In the letter sent to Commissioner Denby Lloyd late Sunday and Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday, dozens of former Alaska Department of Fish and Game workers said Rossi lacks the credentials to get even an entry-level job as a biologist.

"We believe this appointment will erode staff morale, result in resignations, reduce broad public support for state wildlife management, and potentially jeopardize some wildlife resources that the division manages for all citizens of the state," the letter said.

The signers, 39 former biologists and supervisors at the agency, represent more than 760 years of department experience.

Rossi and Lloyd did not immediately return calls for comment Monday. Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Monday that the commissioner would review the letter.

Lloyd's office has refused to provide The Associated Press with a copy of Rossi's resume, citing state confidentiality laws. A copy of the resume obtained by the AP does not list a college degree but says Rossi has 30 semester hours in zoology, botany and biology from a half-dozen universities.

Chuck and Sally Heath, the parents of former Gov. Sarah Palin and the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, top the list of references.

Sally Heath told the AP that Rossi was "a wonderful, ethical, honest person that we have worked with for many years."

Heath said she and her husband worked for Rossi for 14 years trapping nuisance animals when he was employed by the federal government. The jobs, which included controlling birds at airports and trapping foxes and rats, paid between $11 and $13 an hour, she said, and ended when Rossi got his state job.

Rossi's resume lists work from 1995 to 2009 as a supervisory wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he assisted "programs designed to prevent or alleviate wildlife damage in Alaska." It said that from 1989 to 1995, he worked for the same federal agency in Washington state where he was responsible for "stopping or curtailing wildlife caused resource losses and/or minimizing hazards associated with nuisance wildlife."

Critics have said that Palin created the abundance management job for Rossi in late 2008 and that his close association with her family got him the top job in the wildlife conservation agency. The management job was created to steer the state's predator control program in which wolves and bears are killed to boost moose and caribou numbers.

The signers of the letter see Rossi as a "single issue advocate" who lacks academic and professional experience to be a division director. Rossi's selection indicates that professional wildlife management in Alaska is being replaced by a model to maximize production of wild game meat, the letter said.

"Science, rather than politics, should be the guiding philosophy of professional leadership which should also include appropriate academic training and professional experience," the letter said. "This appointment marks a departure from the standard of science-based management for which the Department has always been recognized."

John Schoen, Audubon Alaska's senior scientist and one of the letter's organizers, said Rossi lacks the education and experience needed to be a division director.

Schoen, who worked as a wildlife biologist for Fish and Game for 20 years and holds a doctorate in wildlife ecology from the University of Washington, said Rossi's simplistic, single-minded mission will not serve all Alaskans, particularly the wildlife viewers, birders and tourism operators.

"Alaska is a big state. There is room for sport hunters, there is room for other subsistence hunters and there is room for other wildlife enthusiasts," Schoen said.



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