My Turn: New ideas for old problem

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2005

When contentious political problems hang around long enough, opposite extremes often end-up making similar fundamental points; creating a yin-yang situation that can either thwart or lead to a more broad-based and stable resolution, depending on the disposition of political leaders.

The Board of Game situation presents such a dilemma. The yin (passive) element emphasizes the intrinsic values of wildlife, like ecological diversity, and in the extreme, wants to outlaw hunting and trapping. The yang (active) element wants programs, like predator control, that increase hunter opportunity, and in the extreme, opposes wildlife viewing opportunities even on public lands.

The Knowles administration tended to favor the yin approach. Some hunters bitterly complained about appointments to the Board of Game and felt ignored in its decision-making. The Murkowski administration strongly favors the yang approach. Wildlife viewing advocates, and even those who favor a balance with consumptive uses, feel estranged from the present Board of Game.

I would like to propose two solutions that should satisfy all but the most extreme. These proposals would allow the overall public better opportunity to participate in Board of Game matters, provide an appeals process, and give voters last call on board appointments.

Most Board of Game proposals deal with seasons, bag limits etc. This is important stuff but usually local in scope and non-controversial. These proposals could better be decided by regional committees that are more familiar with local circumstances. I propose four regional committees (one for each judicial district) that have authority to actually make decisions, not just give advice. This would reduce board workload and provide better and less expensive opportunity for local input. Also, regional committees would be timelier, meeting in each region at least once a year.

However, there are sound objections: Those with an interest in a region but not living there might have less opportunity to participate, and decisions may be too parochial. But these objections can be mitigated by instituting an appeal process to committee decisions.

Under this plan, the Board of Game establishes committee policy and delegates proposals for their action, but takes the lead on issues of statewide importance, such as predator control. In addition, the board decides on appeals to committee decisions.

When the governor's choices represent a diversity of wildlife interests and the Legislature uses its powers of confirmation to assure inclusion of all of its constituents, the current board-appointment process works fine, as in past years. However, when ideology and partisan politics rule, as now, the process fails to ensure the constitutional rights of all wildlife users.

These circumstances could be averted if the public had some authority in appointments. Some say that elections provide this authority. Not really because most elections are based on issues much larger than board appointments.

I propose that Alaska's voters be given the right to approve retention of Board of Game appointments (and perhaps other boards) similar to what now exists with judicial appointments. A vote no later than the next general election after confirmation should provide the check-and-balance needed to keep appointments diverse, yet mainstream. A campaign against retention would be rare, but worth the considerable effort it would take when things are askew.

To further insure diversity, board appointments could be based on seats designated by significant user groups (big game guides and wildlife photographers, for example), similar to what currently exists in regulation for Fish and Game Advisory Committees. While some have suggested this before, there is no assurance that an appointment will be qualified to represent a designated seat. A retention vote provides some restraint from making questionable appointments.

Each proposal will require new legislation. While it is unlikely that a partisan governor or legislature will actually fix problems they have created, the public has another option: the initiative process. Those interested in maintaining the skewed status quo will probably charge "ballot box biology." But if that's what it takes to restore some sort of civil balance, so be it.

• George Matz is now a Fritz Creek resident. Previously, he was active with Anchorage conservation groups, particularly Anchorage Audubon, and served on the Board of Game from 2001-2002 and the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee from 2002-2004.

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