Wildlife chief's resignation resonates with Alaska biologists

Less than two years after his appointment as director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation, Corey Rossi has resigned, effective immediately. Dale Rabe, deputy director, has been appointed acting director.

An email from Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell cited "personal reasons" for Rossi's resignation. However, he was recently charged with 12 counts of illegal bear hunting as a licensed assistant guide in 2008.

State wildlife biologists who couldn't wait to share the news with their peers were calling one another Thursday evening, shortly after Commissioner Campbell's email announcing Rossi's resignation was sent to state offices.

Rossi was arguably the least popular director since statehood, both publicly and internally. He had been appointed to Fish and Game in December 2008 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, a high-level position specifically created for Rossi, a proponent of "intensive management," better known as predator control. Rossi listed Palin's parents as references in his application for assistant commissioner.

In March 2010 Gov. Sean Parnell asked the director of wildlife conservation, Doug Larsen, to step down and Rossi was appointed in his stead, a move that delighted some pro-hunting organizations. Under Rossi, the department proposed new areas for aerial wolf control and also advocated bear control, using controversial methods such as snaring, to increase numbers of moose and caribou for human consumption.

Wildlife biologists working under Rossi have been reluctant to criticize him or his pet projects publicly because retribution was swift and harsh. This reticence didn't muzzle wildlife biologists formerly employed by Fish and Game, however, who sent a letter in March 2010 to then-Commissioner Denby Lloyd asking him to reconsider Rossi's appointment. That letter and a follow-up letter were signed by 53 former wildlife biologists whose careers totaled 1,007 years of experience with the Department of Fish and Game stretching back, in several instances, to the late 1950s. The former biologists cited Rossi's lack of education or experience in wildlife management and research, calling him a "single issue advocate who lacks the educational background necessary for an entry-level biologist position."

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Rick Sinnott at rick(at)alaskadispatch.com