Opinion: Governor is stacking Board of Game with guides

By Mark Richards

The Governor recently appointed Ruth Cusack, the vice-president of Safari Club International Alaska chapter, to the Board of Game. She replaces Orville Huntington, from Huslia, who after serving on the Board of Fisheries and then the Board of Game, is retiring from board service. Cusack is a hunting guide, and she and two other guides, James Cooney and Al Barrette, will also be up for confirmation when the joint session of the Legislature meets later this session.

If all three are confirmed, it will make for five guides and one retired guide on the seven-member Board of Game.

The statute governing Board of Game appointments, AS 16.05.221, speaks to the need to provide a balanced membership on the board: “The governor shall appoint each member on the basis of interest in public affairs, good judgment, knowledge, and ability in the field of action of the board, and with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view in the membership.” [my emphasis]

Clearly, if all three individuals are confirmed, the Board of Game will not have a real diversity of interest and points of view. Real or perceived, the board will be overtly tilted in favor of the commercial hunting industry.

This puts the organization I represent, Resident Hunters of Alaska, in an uncomfortable position, as all three of the individuals up for confirmation are all good people whom we respect, whom we’d be happy sharing a campfire with, with knowledge on hunting and wildlife management issues.

Barrett has served one term on the board and is up for reappointment. RHAK supported his appointment three years ago, prior the appointment and confirmation of two more guides to the board, who are currently confirmed and serving. Cooney was appointed last year post confirmation hearings and served and voted on the board for the 2022 Southcentral and Statewide meetings.

We want to support good people on the board. But we simply cannot support in principle the addition of three more hunting guides to the board.

RHAK formed in 2016 in large part because resident hunters were frustrated with the Board of Game continually catering to the guide industry with special allocations to guides and their nonresident clients. Moose is not a “must-be-guided” species for nonresident U.S. citizens, but the board created new “must-be-guided” moose hunts to benefit specific guides, and in one case allocated 50% of a moose draw permit to nonresident hunters. The board allocates up to 40% of all coveted Kodiak brown bear draw permits to nonresident guided hunters and created a loophole in the regulations whereby those nonresident hunters don’t have to go through an actual lottery process to hunt. Unlike residents who have a 1-3 percent chance to draw a permit and can put in for decades and never draw, the nonresident guided hunter has a 100 percent opportunity to hunt if he or she has enough money to pay a guide. They don’t have to file an application, pay the application fee, they just sign a contract with a guide and pick up an over-the-counter permit on Kodiak when they arrive.

RHAK has always made recommendations on Board of Game appointments to Boards and Commissions, and we have recommended four individuals, three men and one woman, none of whom hold a guide license. All are highly qualified to serve.

None of this is personal; these are all good people the governor wants to be confirmed. We are not saying they will always vote a certain way, simply because they hold a guide license and have ties to the commercial hunting industry, but legislators should be wary of rubber-stamping the governor’s desire to stack the board with commercial hunting interests. It’s not just bad optics for the state, it exacerbates what so many resident hunters already believe: that their voices aren’t really being considered or heard by the Board of Game.

Mark Richards is the Executive Director for Resident Hunters of Alaska, and currently lives in Fairbanks. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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