Governor to review wildlife enforcement

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski will address concerns that the Department of Public Safety is not adequately protecting Alaska's wildlife by convening a review group.

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Murkowski said an "internal working group" will address charges by the boards of Game and Fisheries that wildlife enforcement is lax around the state.

Results of the group's findings will be released after it meets at the end of this week, Murkowski said Saturday.

The governor spoke as he served hot dogs at the annual governor's picnic in Anchorage.

The group will include officials from the Alaska State Troopers, the Department of Fish and Game and possibly board representatives, said Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske.

The committee likely will consider incremental increases in the number of wildlife officers and where they should be deployed, he said.

"We have to get in the room, shut the door, and see how we can best protect our wildlife resources," Tandeske said.

Tandeske reorganized the department in 2003.

Wildlife officers from the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection were blended with the Alaska State Troopers.

Tandeske said the move would streamline costs, improve communication and improve law enforcement.

Wildlife officers since the merger have helped arrest criminals only during short downtimes outside hunting and fishing seasons, Tandeske has said. He contends the merger has not hurt wildlife enforcement efforts.

Members of the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game, which set regulations, disagree.

In a joint resolution passed unanimously in March, the boards asked the commissioner to reinstate the wildlife division as a separate unit. They said warnings, personnel and outreach have dropped.

Game board member Ron Somerville said the state has stopped advertising for wildlife officers. Instead, it recruited and trained only troopers, who then could apply to become wildlife officers. The number of candidates for wildlife positions fell, he said.

The Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement is authorized for 83 wildlife officers. About a dozen positions are vacant.

According to Game Board members, citizens have complained privately and at board meetings that game violations are up, especially around Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska and in Southwest Alaska.

The Game Board pressed the issue with a letter July 11 to the governor and legislative leadership asking both to examine complaints.

During the picnic at the Delaney Park Strip, Murkowski commented on the timing of the letter just six weeks before the Aug. 22 Republican primary. His key opponents have both said more wildlife officers are needed.

Also considered will be changes to the troopers' recruiting policy, including possibly recruiting for wildlife officers again, Tandeske said.

He does not want the group to consider reinstating the wildlife division.

"We need to focus on what assets are needed to do the job, not on the structure," Tandeske said.

The working group is a good start, Somerville said. The letter was not politically motivated, he said, noting that the board has sought a solution for months.



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