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Alaska's broken, corrupt wildlife system needs fixing

Bill Sherwonit

The evidence mounts that under Gov. Sean Parnell’s watch, Alaska’s wildlife-management system is both broken and increasingly corrupt.

Of course one might legitimately ask whether Parnell is in fact watching or gives a damn. Our governor has remained remarkably mum despite the rot that seems to be spreading among our state’s wildlife officials and which, it might be argued, threatens the integrity of his own administration. And his judgment.

The latest piece of evidence is Parnell’s appointment of Lynn Keogh Jr. to the Board of Game (BOG) and what we learned from the Alaska Legislature’s laudable rejection of that appointment, even if by a slim two-vote margin (confirmation requires 31 “yea” votes; Keogh got 29). And it is inextricably tied to Rod Arno, long-time executive director of our state’s highest profile “sportsmen’s” group, the Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC).

From statements made by a trio of legislators before the vote, it appears that Keogh’s defeat was mostly tied to his own bad behavior (including violations of state regulations), his curt dismissal of past violations as mere “hiccups,” and a sense that he was being dishonest when questioned about certain past wrongdoings.

The rejection of Keogh was, of course, also a setback for Parnell. For the second straight year, one of his BOG appointees was rejected by a legislative body whose political -- and wildlife-management -- leanings are largely similar to his own, so confirmation of Parnell’s choices should be a slam dunk. But they haven’t been, because of his recent poor selections (Al Barrette last year, Keogh this time around). Which raises the question: who’s been recommending these guys?

That brings us to Arno, for whom the Keogh rejection was, it seems, a particularly galling defeat, mainly because he lost to the “antis.” While Arno portrays the antis as anti-hunting extremists, in fact they include anyone who disagrees with the AOC’s own extreme positions on “intensive management,” namely the need to kill increasing numbers of bears and wolves by almost any possible method.

Before the legislature’s vote on Keogh, Arno sent a now infamous email to Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich, telling him, “Get the word out, we can’t let the antis defeat Lynn’s confirmation to the BOG like they did with Al Barrette. . . . let legislators know we’ll go after every one of them who votes against Keogh next November.”

Arno’s comments after Keogh’s defeat are just as telling. When interviewed by the Alaska Dispatch’s Amanda Coyne, he said, “We’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone who is active and has been out [hunting and fishing], who doesn’t have minor infractions like [Keogh]. According to the Dispatch, if a clean record is one criteria to sit on the board, Arno suggests, “We’re going to have a little old lady who only drives on Sunday and sips tea.”

Oh really?

The AOC can’t find a single nominee who meets its anti-predator criteria and has no violations on his or her record?

Parnell, who by all appearances has picked nominees pushed by the AOC and the ironically named Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, must be in a quandary. Does this mean he might have to seriously consider candidates who do have clean records but don’t meet the AOC’s approval?

While I believe that a Sunday-driving, tea-sipping “little old lady” would add both diversity and integrity to the Board of Game, I’m not sure that any have shown an interest. But off the top of my head, I can think of at least a few applicants who would do the BOG—and Alaska—proud and I suggest Parnell seriously consider their qualifications and records: Vic Van Ballenberghe, Greg Brown, and Jenny Pursell. There are, I’d guess, others who don’t meet the AOC’s seal of approval. But the AOC’s—and Parnell’s—record isn’t so hot of late, given its backing of Keogh, Barrette, Corey Rossi, and even BOG chairman Cliff Judkins, whose reported behavior on a muskoxen hunt a few years back has cast a shadow on his hunting ethics.

It’s time Parnell began to clean up this mess. And he doesn’t have to say a word while doing so.

Bill Sherwonit has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of publications (both traditional and online) and is the author of 13 books, most recently Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness and Chugach State Park: Alaska's Accessible Wilderness, the latter a collaboration with photographer Carl Battreall. He has closely followed and written about Alaska's wildlife politics since the mid-1980s.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.