Conservation groups are suing the state to put more advocates of wildlife viewing on the state Board of Game and to break up what they call a "hunter-trapper monopoly."
Five groups filed a lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court on Monday to transfer the board's regulatory authority to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game until the board is changed to include "wildlife values of all Alaskans, including those who neither hunt nor trap," according to a press release by The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Other plaintiffs include the Alaska Center for the Environment, Eastern Kenai Peninsula Environmental Action Association, Friends of McNeil River and the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society.
The conservation groups argue the state Legislature has refused to confirm anyone to the game board who is not a hunter or trapper and that the current representation is illegal because the Alaska Constitution says wildlife laws shall apply equally to all people. The groups say the board's "hunter-trapper monopoly" means people who support non-consumptive uses, including wildlife viewing, photography and scientific research, do not have a voice on the panel.
"We need people on the Board of Game who shoot with a camera and not just a rifle," said Mark Luttrell, director of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula Environmental Action Association.
The state Legislature last session overwhelmingly rejected board candidate Leo Keeler, a wildlife photographer appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles. Keeler's group, Friends of McNeil River, joined in the lawsuit.
"The Board of Game has always had a single management objective: to maximize the harvest to meet hunter and trapper demand," said Keeler, president of the group.
Juneau game guide Paul Johnson accused the groups of stirring up controversy only to raise more money for their organizations. He said most of the best habitat in Alaska was set aside in national parks for non-hunting under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and that the current board has "bent over backward" to accommodate people who want more areas to view wildlife.
"Board members are extremely sensitive to all sides and have created a balanced view and elevated the needs of wildlife viewers to the utmost," Johnson said.
Carl Rosier, a former Fish and Game commissioner and president of the pro-hunting Alaska Outdoor Council, described game board members as "moderates" and said they've done a good job of fairly allocating the state's wildlife resources.
Rosier said the governor is to blame for the Legislature not embracing his choices for the board.
"If the governor doesn't send extremists up, then you wouldn't have that problem," said Rosier, of Juneau.
A spokesman for the governor said the Legislature over the years has rejected four Knowles' appointees, including Keeler. He disputed that the governor's candidates have been extreme.
Keeler "brings the perspective of a wildlife photographer, someone who values wildlife for its non-consumptive values. I don't think that's an extreme position whatsoever," said spokesman Bob King.
King said the administration hasn't had a chance to review the lawsuit, but the governor supports the idea of more diversity on the board.
"He has argued through his administration that those boards need to represent the broad diversity of interests, and he has warned that if people feel the boards are not representative of all these interests, they will use the initiative process, they will go to the courts, to seek relief," King said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.