Alaska News

4 vie to be Fish and Game commissioner, including Walker's interim pick

A six-figure salary and the opportunity to supervise some 1,700 employees has enticed just four people to apply to be commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under new Gov. Bill Walker.

The state boards of fish and game, which vet applications and forward qualified candidates to Walker, advertised with Alaska newspapers and fish and game organizations -- and even on

But they received just two applications from Alaska residents: one from acting commissioner Sam Cotten, and another from Roland Maw, the executive director of a Cook Inlet commercial fishermen's association.

Two others came from Outside. Gregory Woods, a South Carolina-based terminal operations manager for a trucking and railroad company, submitted an application, as did Zachary Hill, a postdoctoral researcher in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California San Francisco. Both have lived in Alaska.

The names of the applicants were first reported by the Peninsula Clarion.

The fish and game boards canceled a preliminary meeting to review candidates that was scheduled for Monday, due to the dearth of applicants, said Glenn Haight, the executive director of the fish board.

The boards are now planning a joint meeting in January to vet all four applicants and interview them if necessary, said Ted Spraker, the chair of the Board of Game. Walker can also request additional choices, and the candidate he selects will ultimately have to be approved by the Alaska Legislature.


Spraker said Cotten is clearly qualified to serve as commissioner under state statute, which says merely that a candidate should be a "qualified executive" with knowledge of "protection, management, conservation and restoration" of fish and game resources.

"I think the joint board will, in all likelihood, send Sam Cotten's name forward," Spraker said. But he added that in the past, the boards have forwarded several names.

"The board is going to take a very careful look at each of the candidates," Spraker said.

Cotten is a Democratic former speaker of the state House of Representatives, and he also served two terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets fisheries policies for the Gulf of Alaska as well as the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region.

Cotten was named acting commissioner Dec. 1, the day Walker was inaugurated -- and for other potential applicants, the appointment could "dampen people's hopes to becoming the commissioner," Spraker said.

"I mean, the governor's certainly selected his acting commissioner for good reasons," Spraker said. But, he added: "If I was applying for that job and I knew there was already a guy selected by the governor, I would think twice about putting my name in."

In a phone interview, Bruce Botelho, Walker's transition coordinator, acknowledged that potential candidates might have considered Cotten's appointment when deciding whether to submit an application.

"The fact remains that the department requires leadership, and someone with the ability to do the job was required. And the governor identified Sam Cotten to be that person," Botelho said. "I think the governor intends to fully examine whatever names are put forth by the joint boards."

The number of people who applied for the Fish and Game job was similar to the number of candidates for other open commissioner slots in the Walker administration, according to Botelho, who said applications have ranged between two and six, depending on the job.

The last time the Fish and Game boards met to consider commissioner candidates, in 2010, there were only two applicants. The boards voted unanimously to send both to Gov. Sean Parnell, who chose Cora Campbell -- whom he'd already named acting commissioner.

In 2007, eight candidates applied, while in 1995, 20 people submitted applications to serve under Gov. Tony Knowles.

Wayne Heimer, a retired sheep biologist at the Department of Fish and Game who served on one of Walker's transition subcommittees, said that in the past, commissioners have typically had stronger backgrounds in commercial fishing than in game management -- which he said would hold true if Cotten were selected for the permanent post.

"He has a background, I think, that is richer in commercial fishing than anything else," Heimer said in a phone interview. "He's never been a go-to guy for wildlife issues that I know of."

But, Heimer added, "I don't think there's any such person that can do it all." And he said he'd be watching as the new commissioner's deputies are appointed, to see how much power they're given in the budgeting process.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at