While answering a question about Ron Somerville's presence on the Board of Game during last fall's gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Sarah Palin noted that he brought balance to the board.
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Though chagrined by Palin's support for Somerville, I was pleased to learn she recognized the importance of a balanced Board of Game.
After her election, Palin had an excellent chance to actually improve that balance. Sadly, she failed to do so. Though not privy to the full list of candidates for an expired seat, I know that at least one had the credentials to elevate the board's deliberations and broaden its perspective. But instead of choosing longtime resident, former board member and biologist-conservationist George Matz, Palin instead reappointed Bob Bell.
It was an awful mistake.
This is not to demean Bell's character or contributions to our community. For all I know, he's a wonderful husband and grandfather, a talented engineer and a fine business owner. But none of that is relevant to membership on the Board of Game. Bell's own resume offers no shred of evidence that he has the experience or knowledge that would best serve Alaska's wildlife and the people for whom that wildlife is important.
A friend of mine pointed out that boards can be well served by lay people without special expertise. I agree, but only when they bring an open mind and heart, a willingness to learn and consider all sides of an issue. Bell is not that person when it comes to wildlife management. He, like nearly all current board members, supports predator control and what is essentially a favored-species, wild-game farming approach to Alaska's wildlife populations.
I had a firsthand opportunity to watch Bell in action at the board's March meeting, and what I saw disturbed me.
Most Anchorage residents know that Bell led the charge to allow wolverine trapping in Chugach State Park. Despite his denials, he essentially said, if you don't see the critters but once a decade or two, what does it hurt to kill more of them? Bell's recent defense in The Voice of The Times demonstrated that he still doesn't get it. Consider his ending statement: "The decision we made on the wolverine trapping was good for the trappers and the animals."
How, I ask, is more trapping "good" for the animals? With the area's wolverine population likely being overharvested already, how does killing more wolverines benefit them in any way? This shows either his ignorance or denial. I'm not sure which is worse.
Bell displayed poor judgment and an ignorance of wildlife-management issues several other times at the March meeting, but I'll offer only one more outrageous example.
One proposal before the board requested a trophy bull-moose hunt in the portion of Chugach State Park above Anchorage's Hillside. State wildlife manager Rick Sinnott strongly recommended a no vote and gave several reasons why. The highly habituated bulls, Sinnott emphasized, are prized by photographers and wildlife watchers, so a conflict would inevitably result. The harvest of older bulls would in no way resolve Anchorage's moose-human conflicts, and a trophy hunt would likely stir up enough opposition that even the cow hunt might be closed.
Ted Spraker and Somerville also spoke out against the trophy hunt. But Bell was unconvinced. The proposal failed 1-6, with Bell voting for the hunt, against the advice of both Sinnott and his colleagues. In this instance, perhaps more than any other, he failed the common-sense test.
Though I often strongly disagree with Spraker and Somerville and the agenda they push, I can at least respect their understanding of wildlife dynamics and management issues. Bell, on the other hand, seems out of touch. And his agenda will keep him from learning what he should know.
The good news is that the Alaska Legislature still needs to vote on Bell's appointment to the Board of Game. Legislators can reverse Palin's poor decision by refusing to confirm him. Maybe then our new governor will find someone to add a measure of balance to a sadly unbalanced body.
Bill Sherwonit is an Anchorage nature writer and freelance journalist who has attended Board of Game meetings since the mid-1980s.