The politicization of Alaska’s public boards and commissions leaves a lot to be desired, particularly when it comes to fish and wildlife management.
For example, Gov. Mike Dunleavy just appointed a conservative radio host — Mike Porcaro — to a highly paid position overseeing Alaska’s fisheries. Is he qualified? Who knows.
I suspect Porcaro was chosen because he’ll do whatever the governor asks, despite any environmental or social consequences. That’s not really how an advisory or regulatory board is supposed to work.
But I have a bigger fish to fry: the Alaska Board of Game. For decades, lobbyists for the hunting community and conservative politicians like Dunleavy have insisted that only hunters, trappers, and hunting guides are qualified to be on the Board of Game. That policy is not enshrined in law. It’s just what they do. Looking over the names of board members since statehood — well more than 100 people — I can only identify a handful whose focus was broader than optimizing hunting or trapping opportunities.
The inmates are running the asylum. This is not government of the people, by the people, for the people — it is government of the hunters, by the hunters, for the hunters.
According to the Alaska Constitution, our wildlife belongs to all of us. Even in Alaska, hunters are a minority. While non-hunting family members and friends often partake of wild game harvested by hunters, I’d be surprised if most Alaskans eat game meat every year, and most households living along the state’s road and ferry corridors (i.e., most Alaskans) don’t rely on it. Many Alaskans, including hunters, enjoy wildlife in non-consumptive ways like watching or feeding birds, taking photos or just knowing that wild animals exist. And Alaska benefits from a lucrative visitor industry that caters to and depends on wildlife viewing.
Apparently, the governor believes that a person doesn’t require any special experience or training to be appointed to the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The less the person knows about commercial fishing, the better.
Similarly, Dunleavy appointed another conservative radio host, Rick Green (aka Rick Rydell), to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council. Really? Green doesn’t know anything about eagles. If they tasted like turkeys, he’d want to hunt them.
But Dunleavy treats the Board of Game very differently. He hasn’t appointed anybody without hunting credentials.
The policy for appointing members to the Board of Game is quite different from other Alaska boards and commissions. Most boards require that some members have no financial interest in the profession or practice they regulate. Others ensure diverse participation by reserving seats for members of various interest groups.
The State Medical Board has eight members appointed by the governor. Two members must “have no direct financial interest in the health care industry.” The Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar has 14 members, three of whom must be non-attorneys. The commission that Porcaro was appointed to has only two members, neither of which may have a vested economic interest in commercial fishing. I could go on, but you can see the pattern here.
Forestry, like wildlife management, affects many diverse public interest groups. Consequently, of the nine members appointed by the governor to the Board of Forestry, one each must be from a commercial fisherman’s organization, a Native corporation, an environmental organization, a professional non-governmental fish or wildlife biologist, a mining organization, and a recreational organization. In other words, most of the members of this board are not foresters or loggers.
Why can’t the Board of Game use that model? The board’s policy requires only that members have an “interest in public affairs, good judgment, knowledge, and ability in the field of action of the board.” Laughably, considering the roster of board appointments since statehood, the policy claims it ensures a “diversity of interest and points of view in the membership.”
But it’s just a policy. It can easily be changed by the governor. For example, why can’t the board include someone who represents an environmental organization, a recreational organization, a tourism organization, or is a professional non-governmental wildlife biologist — or even someone who doesn’t hunt?
If the governor can appoint talk show hosts to public boards and commissions responsible for regulating or adjudicating the use of fish and wildlife resources, then there is no reason the Board of Game cannot reflect the broad diversity of public interests in wildlife.
Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. He lives in Chugiak.
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