Gov. Mike Dunleavy promised to reduce state spending. He vowed to deliver only core functions, which meant “eliminating the nonessential.” During the campaign, he told us Alaska “suffers from a bloated government that spends beyond its means.”
So why in the world would he hire Rick Rydell, a radio talk show host, as a special assistant to the commissioner of Fish and Game?
Rydell – who now goes by his real surname, Green, instead of his better-known alias – has no education or experience in wildlife management. But he does like to talk. So his job will be “improving communication” with the state’s hunters and anglers. For an annual salary of $87,000.
But wait. Since when does a Republican-led administration or Legislature need to improve communication with hunters? They are already in lockstep. The acting commissioner of Fish and Game, Doug Vincent-Lang, is the treasurer of Safari Club International Alaska Chapter.
The new director of wildlife conservation, Eddie Grasser, is also deeply embedded in the trophy hunting community. He’s a former hunting guide and the vice president of Safari Club International Alaska Chapter. Grasser is a leading figure in the Alaska Outdoor Council. Grasser and Vincent-Lang are directors of the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. All of these are pro-hunting organizations that swing a lot of political weight in Alaska. Nothing inherently wrong with belonging to a pro-hunting organization, but these are advocacy groups, not professional resource managers.
None of the new leaders at Fish and Game have any education or experience as wildlife managers (not counting political appointments). Instead, they seem to have suspicious connections with resource development. Vincent-Lang is on the Resource Development Council. He has long opposed endangered species management in Alaska. He fought the recent Ballot Measure 1, which would have tightened up fish habitat regulations in Alaska. Ben Mulligan, the new assistant commissioner, is a businessman and the vice president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. Rydell also has ties to resource development, is a member of the Alaska Outdoor Council, and has spent years attacking Fish and Game on his radio program.
Again, there is nothing wrong with responsible resource development. But if you think it’s a good idea to have these people running Fish and Game, then I know some members of the Audubon Society who would like to be in charge of ExxonMobil and the Pebble Mine project.
Rydell is the most egregious pick of all. A former, disgraced director of wildlife conservation, Corey Rossi, had many of the same skills and beliefs as Rydell. They are good friends. Both like to talk. Both like to hunt. Both have been assistant hunting guides. Both are members of the Alaska Moose Federation. Both are hard-core disciples of intensive management, the Alaska law that essentially mandates predator control in favor of producing more game animals at the expense of wolves and bears.
You’d think that after the state’s experience with Rossi – who was fired after he was found to have racked up 12 hunting violations before his tenure as the state’s chief wildlife manager -- Vincent-Lang and Dunleavy would have given Rydell’s appointment a second thought.
Here’s why: One of Rydell’s sketchy qualifications for the job of special assistant was two books he’s written about hunting in Alaska. In those books, Rydell recounts a number of questionable and downright unethical and illegal practices that he thought were, well, kind of funny.
Rydell, Rossi and another assistant hunting guide once planned to shoot 30 black bears in three days. This was legal under intensive management. Was it something to brag about in a book? That’s questionable.
Rydell described it as “a chance for greatness … and a chance to sight in new rifles on moving targets, over and over and over again.” That’s unethical, at least in my book.
Rydell and his hunting buddies failed to achieve their goal. But he did manage to shoot a sow and her three cubs as they scrambled for safety in nearby trees.
There’s more. Taking shots at extreme distances, where he had to shoot a moving animal repeatedly to kill it. Snagging grouse from a four-wheeler with a dipnet. That’s illegal. He even takes issue with mandated hunter-safety classes and subsistence hunting.
A salary of $87,000 per year. That’s more than my top salary when I worked for Fish and Game. I had a master’s degree and 28 years of experience in wildlife management. And Rydell complains that state workers are overpaid.
If Gov. Dunleavy were to practice what he preached, a good way to cut the state budget would be to ditch Rydell as soon as possible. He is the essence of nonessential.
The commissioner of Fish and Game doesn’t need a special assistant to help him understand what urban sport hunters want. He’s a member of Safari Club International, and the vice president of that organization is working just down the hall.
Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist.
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