Schandelmeier: Does Alaska have a board of games?

John Schandelmeier

I spend most of my time outdoors. I come in to sleep and at times to eat, though not always. It follows that I am concerned about the world around me, particularly the world of wildlife. Habitat preservation and hunting regulations play a big role in the health of the ecosystem that swirls around us. Concerned citizens who find these things important may find themselves a little frustrated with the current management of both.

Public input is crucial to intelligent management of our resources, and nowhere is this more immediately visible than in the regulation of our game resources. The process of crafting hunting regulations in Alaska is one of the most open in the United States. Every person, whether they are a hunter or a non-consumptive user, gets an opportunity to have their say on various proposed regulations. In addition, there are 84 local advisory committees charged with the task of providing input and suggestions on local conditions. After all, how could a Board of Game member from Juneau know what is happening to the moose in the Copper Basin?

They would not. The seven Board of Game members from scattered points around our big state must listen to local Fish and Game biologists, advisory committees and citizens of each area to get a feel for what might be happening. Hunting regulations are not just biology. They are a delicate mix of biology and allocation.

There may be 800 moose available for harvest. The biology is how many bulls or cows can be taken by hunters and how many are necessary to feed the various predators that rely on them. The allocation part comes in when we divide those 800 moose. Wolves get a few, grizzlies get a share and non-consumptive users want some for viewing. Hunters want a bunch. What hunters? Locals, nonresidents and sport hunters from the cities all want their fair share.

All of these groups deserve a chance at one of those available moose, as long as there are enough to go around. The Board of Game (appointees) and the biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (hired) make those decisions along with the valuable input of the folks who live and recreate in the concerned areas. All of us think that we know best how our game should be managed. We are all wrong, of course, hence the lengthy regulation process and the nearly year-long comment period. The final result is a compromise.

Unit 13 regulations are some of the most controversial in Alaska. People from Anchorage, the Valley and Fairbanks all hunt in Unit 13. Local communities depend on the moose and caribou around their respective villages for food. As a result of more "I wants, I needs" than the moose population can support, the available moose are allocated among the various user groups. The affected Alaska Native group, Ahtna, has suggestions. There are four local Fish and Game advisory committees with proposals. And there are ideas put forth by individual hunters.

Unit 13 is managed on a two-year cycle; every other year regulations are reconsidered. There is opportunity to readjust what didn't work as hoped. One of the proposals put forth concerning moose management in Unit 13 during the last cycle (February 2013) was proposal 69.

Proposal 69 was a rather innocuous item put forth by Ahtna that asked that a method be found to take the additional 30 or so moose that had been allocated to the community hunt program. The proposal suggested that the Board of Game get input from local villages. Ahtna, advisory committees, Fish and Game and other concerned hunters at the board meeting last February commented on the proposal as it was written.

The final version that the board came up with was an entirely new regulation that created a month-long, winter Tier I registration hunt for any bull moose in selected areas of Unit 13. That might get an additional 30 moose. Area communities may not get them but they will be taken.

The issue is not whether one agrees or does not agree with the hunt timing, method or area chosen. It's the fact that the regulation process was circumvented. None of the citizen entities had an opportunity to comment on this entirely new hunt. You could have sat through a week of board deliberations on various other items until the subject of proposal 69 surfaced. You could listen to the debate but the public is not allowed to comment during board deliberations.

Based on my interviews with the involved parties, it's my opinion that the new proposal 69 was crafted by a couple of board members in an attempt to placate a user group. This is ridiculous! In all fairness, they did get help with the means of implementing the final version of the regulation from Fish and Game. No comment period was allowed and the regulation was postponed for a year to allow for a drawing hunt that was already in place.

Why have an advisory committee? Why have a proposal book at all? Instead, sit seven dudes down in a room and let the guy from Kotzebue set the deer season in Angoon. Let's have a political appointee from Ketchikan tell us how many ptarmigan the hunter from Emmonak needs. No input, just figure it out.

We have a board process for a reason. It should be adhered to under all circumstances, not just when convenient. Yes, moose in Unit 13 is a contentious issue but if you can't stand the heat, don't take the job.

It snowed in the Alphabet Hills on the first of June. We who live here know that. I would bet none of the Board of Game members knew that, or the Fish and Game employees in Palmer. Does the public know some other things as well?

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

John Schandelmeier