My friends Nick Jans (a fabulous, award-winning Alaska writer and photographer) and Mark Richards both had Op-ed pieces in The Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Daily News. Both of these men have hunted and trapped over decades in some of the most rural and wild parts of Alaska. Both of these men share a respect and a passion for the wildlife and wildness that is Alaska. Both of these men believe in sound, science-based wildlife policies. Both of these men are calling for the removal of Corey Rossi as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Director of Wildlife Conservation.
from Nick Jans:
My Turn: Rossi simply isn’t qualified for wildlife director position
By Nick Jans | Juneau Empire March 25, 2010
A recent Empire headline read, “Wildlife Director Leaving Juneau.” More to the point, scientific wildlife management seems to be leaving Alaska.
Last week, Alaska Department of Fish & Game commissioner Denby Lloyd asked Doug Larsen to step down as director of wildlife conservation, and named in his place assistant commissioner Corey Rossi. Though no official reason was given, the story is plain as a blood trail on snow: Larsen, a respected scientist with more than three decades of ADF&G experience, was summarily replaced by a man brought into the department by former Gov. Sarah Palin to direct part of ADF&G’s predator control program.
Predator control, properly informed by rigorous science, can be a valuable wildlife management tool. Unfortunately, that specific, study-driven approach has been fading steadily in the rear view mirror, under the pressure of special interest groups who are bent on shaping wildlife management to their own ends.
With the appointment of Rossi, it’s clear that science isn’t driving this bus anymore. When he was first named as assistant commissioner in December 2008, ADF&G’s own press release was conspicuously mum on the subject of his academic credentials. In fact, Rossi turns out to be a high school graduate who’s taken a string of college courses from the Berryman Institute in Utah. Rossi doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree in biology, let alone the advanced scientific credentials that characterized past directors. In fact, Rossi’s school record wouldn’t qualify him to be hired as a junior field biologist.
The sum of Rossi’s bona fides (besides being a close friend of the Palin family) is that he worked for the USDA overseeing the control of undesired animals – as one ADF&G biologist put it, a “gopher choker.”
While his past employment history may qualify him to snare bears with a baited bucket, the Director of Wildlife Conservation position demands a far wider range of scientific knowledge and experience.
Rossi’s hire marks the point at which ADF&G has crossed a threshold that should alarm all Alaskans, as well as the scientific community. In this brave new world, a paralegal can head a law firm; a nurse can direct a team of surgeons, and a high school grad can direct a scientific agency. Though I’m sure some will come forward to defend Rossi, the point stands: he’s simply not qualified for the position to which he was appointed. Of course, Rossi did not appoint himself. Commissioner Lloyd is ultimately responsible for this decision, which can only cast serious doubt on his leadership, and upon the credibility of ADF&G.
This credibility only becomes more strained when we come to the matter of Mr. Rossi’s connection to the special interest group, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife/Habitat. Following his initial appointment to ADF&G, the programs for which he lobbied at the behest of SFW/H (notably the wide-scale, virtually limitless killing of black bears in Unit 16B) quickly became ADF&G policy-a startling development, considering that SFW/H is not a scientific organization.
Founded by Utah businessman Don Peay, SFW/H makes no secret of its goals to re-shape wildlife management departments in lower 48 and Alaska through political pressure, in order to promote what they call “abundance-based management”-basically a euphemism for Maximum Sustained Yield, a wildlife Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud. According to SFW/H’s philosophy, producing the greatest possible number of meat animals for human hunters is all that matters. All other wildlife issues and other user groups, consumptive or non, are subservient at best.
Though SFW/H claims to adhere to science, they mean only the science that supports their viewpoints and ends. As illustration of the very real pressure they bring to bear on the department, consider an email SFW/H spokesman Dane Crowley sent to Denby Lloyd (and cc’d to Rossi) on July 14, 2009, identifying career biologists by name that he wanted disciplined or fired-basically telling ADF&G its business in a very specific and vehement manner.
Lloyd’s surprisingly cordial response (obtained through a public documents request) concludes with, “I look forward to continued cooperation between ADF&G and groups such as yours in meeting … wildlife management objectives for Alaska.”
When the lines between an extremist special interest group and a state agency become this blurred, something’s deeply wrong. It’s time for concerned Alaskans to demand a full official inquiry.
• Nick Jans is an Alaska writer and photographer.
And from Mark Richards:
Wildlife conservation director brings questionable history
COMPASS: Other points of view
By MARK RICHARDS Anchorage Daily News March 25 2010
In late February of 2009, in Anchorage, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, as promised, explained to me face to face how Palin family friend Corey Rossi came to hold a brand- new leadership position at Fish and Game. Lloyd had told me a month earlier that he couldn’t go into an explanation via e-mail.
Gov. Palin, he told me, wanted Rossi — who at the time was a spokesman and board member of the new Alaska chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a predator-control advocacy group headed by former state Sens. Ralph Seekins and Scott Ogan — put in the vacant deputy commissioner slot. But Lloyd strongly refused.
Finally a compromise was reached with Palin in which Patrick Valkenburg — a former biologist with Fish and Game, Alaska Outdoor Council board member and advocate of legalized snaring of bears by the public — would be appointed deputy commissioner. And a brand-new “assistant commissioner” position would be created for Mr. Rossi.
This was the real version of events, I was told, but not the public version. Not surprising, but what came next was a shocker.
A couple of days later Assistant Commissioner Rossi represented Fish and Game before the Board of Game in support of the very same controversial proposals Rossi had helped draft and promote as an SFW-AK board member (submitted under the name of the SFW sister organization, Sportsmen for Habitat) just prior to going to work for the department, to legalize the snaring of bears and helicopter transport of hunters who participate in the Unit 16 bear control efforts west of Anchorage.
It was a clear conflict of interest, and a 180-degree position shift by the department that a year ago had stated in writing to the Board of Game:
“The department does not support the taking of any grizzly bear by trapping, snaring, or same-day-airborne, or the sale of tanned bear hides, even in brown bear predator-control areas.”
But it was allowed to happen, and because it was Assistant Fish and Game Commissioner Rossi supporting those proposals, not SFW-AK spokesman and board member Rossi, the proposals passed.
During the ensuing year, Deputy Commissioner Valkenburg and Assistant Commissioner Rossi began a top-down approach to “change the culture” of Fish and Game and get staff to support new methods and means of bear reductions.
But apparently not all managers and staff were pleased to see the department radically shift positions regarding bears, because SFW-AK began a campaign to have various Region II Fish and Game staff removed or replaced, complaining that certain staffers were hampering “abundance management” efforts and that Doug Larsen, Division of Wildlife Conservation director, was protecting them.
During this time, highly experienced and respected Region II Supervisor Grant Hildebrand voluntarily left the department (and still has not been replaced).
Fast forward to the 2010 spring Board of Game meeting in Fairbanks and the bombshell announcement by Deputy Commissioner Valkenburg that the department would be advocating to legalize the snaring of both black and grizzly bears in the Interior, outside of any formal bear control plans.
I couldn’t believe it. And from the looks and sounds of it, neither could some Fish and Game managers and staff.
A week later, Doug Larsen was asked to step down from the director’s position. Corey Rossi was announced as the new director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, as of March 16, 2010.
SFW-AK released a statement crowing about how they’d influenced Commissioner Lloyd to remove Larsen and put their man Rossi in, calling it a “bold move”
that was “due in large part to the process and participation of SFW. …”
I say “their man” Rossi because from the time Rossi was appointed assistant commissioner, and up until March 13, he was still listed on the SFW web site as a voting board member of SFW-AK.
Lloyd denies he was influenced. But it seems obvious partisan politics and monied special interests have compromised the integrity and reputation of Fish and Game, and the future of science-based wildlife management in Alaska.
Mark Richards is an avid longtime hunter and trapper and co-chair of the Alaska chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, www.alaskabackcountryhunters.org.
This weekend in Juneau, there is a presentation and a rally to support science-based wildlife management. SHOW UP! Here are the details:
Friday, March 26, at 7:00 pm, at the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council: Managing Wildlife in Alaska: Predators, Prey & Politics – The Event
6:00 to 7:00 pm Before the Presentations: Book signings/sales by Nick Jans, Vic Van Ballenberghe, and Bob Armstrong – featuring the release of Bob’s newest book, Photographing Nature in Alaska; Wildlife Slide Show by Jos Bakker
Host: Dr. Alexander Simon, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UAS
Speakers: John Toppenberg – Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance
Vic Van Ballenberghe – Wildlife Biologist
Nick Jans – Author and Wildlife Photographer: Alaska’s Wolves: The Essence of Wilderness, talk and slide show
Greg Brown – Retired CEO of Major International Corporations, Juneau Whale Watching Captain – Want to Run a Billion Dollar Business? Look at Wildlife!
Senator Hollis French
Bonus: World premiere trailer of the upcoming PBS film Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest, introduced via tape by international wildlife spokesperson Jim Fowler and in person by film maker Jim Valentine
Donations gratefully accepted.
Saturday, March 27, at Noon, in Front of the Capitol: Managing Wildlife in Alaska: Predators, Prey & Politics – The Rally
Blessing of the Animals by Reverend Kim Poole, Northern Light United Church
Speakers: Joel Bennett
Senator Hollis French
Representative Beth Kerttula
Vic Van Ballenberghe
Bonuses: Free hot dogs for the first 100 people at the rally!
Singing with Juneau’s own Kit Petersen!
Free door prizes!
Feel free to wear masks, wear costumes, and bring signs!
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Tina at 907.523.5402.