A Disaster for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game
By Wade Willis
The appointment of Corey Rossi to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is a first in Alaska’s history. Since statehood, no governor thought it necessary, or responsible, to let politics trump science. Yet Gov. Parnell appears to have little need for science even though he promised to end this culture of back room politics in Alaska.
At the time of his appointment, Rossi was a founding member of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, and a statewide spokesman for its sister organization, Sportsmen for Habitat, a group based in Utah and founded by Don Peay.
Don Peay openly bragged in SFW’s fall newsletter that “our members are politically positioned to help SFW,” and Corey Rossi has wasted no time paying back his political debts. He gave out four of the 11 governor’s permits to Don Peay’s organization this year.
As the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, Rossi has sole discretion in doling out these special hunting tags, called “Governors permits.” It’s one of the benefits of his appointed position. These organizations then “auction” or “raffle” these tags at their national conventions in places like Reno, Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City.
One of the recent permits Rossi gave to Don Peay’s group is for a bison hunt located in Wrangell St. Elias National Preserve. This coveted bison tag is virtually impossible for the general public to get. In fact, the Fish and Game advise the public that their odds of receiving this particular draw permit is only two percent each year. In 2010, a total of 22,637 people applied for Alaska bison tags which generated over a quarter million dollars for the Fish and Game in application fees.
The state has its own “auction” outlet in the form of a yearly draws for limited tags. Yet the state must abide by Alaska’s constitution and distribute the tags to the general public fairly and equitably. Why would Gov. Parnell prefer to remove the most coveted tags from the public pool just to allow them to be sold to the highest bidder of a political organization in the Lower 48?
Organizations that “auction” these tags to their rich donors are allowed to keep an unlimited amount of the money collected as “administrative” cost. In addition, the organization can then keep an additional 10 percent to directly fund the activities of the organization. And unlike other laws covering “gaming” activities, such as pull tabs, there is no legislative oversight of the financial records of these organizations. The state just assumes they pay the state what they are owed.
Gov. Parnell is endorsing Corey Rossi to use public assets to enrich political sponsors. This has very little to do with raising funds, which the state could easily do itself. But the most amazing fact is this, the state sends up to four biologists at a time to these conventions to promote the sale of the governor’s permits, consuming the very funds the permits are supposed to be generating for direct wildlife management costs.
Title VIII of Alaska’s constitution guarantees residents equal access to fish and game in Alaska. Giving one person or organization “privileged” access to wildlife is not only illegal, but a founding reason why Alaska became a state in the first place – to keep Alaska’s wildlife in the hands of its residents.
But Rossi has even higher ambitions. Under his leadership, at the January meeting of the Board of Game (Proposal 44), he is asking for the authority to authorize governor’s permits during times of the year when Alaskan’s are not allowed to hunt, say two weeks before the sheep season opens or during the rut for moose. He also wants to have the authority to let the rich hunt anywhere in the state with one tag, to harvest game the same day the hunter has flown, or even to use helicopters. Yes, King Rossi wants it all for his political allies, and both he and Gov. Parnell seem to think that’s just fine, even though our constitution clearly abhors such privileged access to our fish and game.
As predicted, Corey Rossi has been a disaster for Fish and Game. Gov. Parnell is going to have to answer for that.
Wade Willis is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee and is currently the director of the Science Now Project, a public education and advocacy organization. sciencenowproject(at)gmail(dot)com
[Cross-posted at The Homer Tribune]