State Should Allow Remote Testimony for Wasilla Board of Game Meeting

Through Michael Richards

Update: 58 a few minutes ago Published: 58 a few minutes ago

I recently had to sign up to attend and testify at the Wasilla Gaming Board meeting that is taking place January 21-29 at the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn and sign an “acknowledgment of risk” and release of liability so that I cannot sue the state if I come down with COVID-19 to attend the meeting.

The Fisheries Council meeting that was scheduled to take place in Ketchikan earlier this month has been canceled and postponed because, as Fisheries Council Executive Director Glenn Haight explained, “Cases in the Southeast are increasing in almost all communities. With the increase in cases after the holiday season, key personnel have already contracted COVID-19 and cannot participate. Additionally, the country and Alaska are facing severe transportation challenges as weather and the pandemic seriously hamper short-term travel.

Surely that’s still the case, as Alaska is currently seeing a record number of COVID cases, so it was surprising that the gaming council was still meeting in person this week in Wasilla. Surprising, but not unwelcome, as the two councils have already had to postpone meetings that should have taken place last year due to the pandemic.

While I’m glad the Board of Game meeting is still held in person and I have no problem attending, I know that many who live in outlying areas and villages, after reading the long warnings in registration documents that give the impression of being exposed to COVID at the meeting, will choose not to attend. Yet the game board will not allow these audience members to testify remotely; only Fish and Game Department staff and Fish and Game Advisory Committees will be allowed to testify virtually and avoid the possibility of catching COVID at the meeting and bringing it back to their village or home. family.

The two boards were given a year to review and develop COVID mitigation policies at meetings and, if meetings could not be held in person, the option of holding virtual meetings, which would allow for remote testimony from the public, Fish and Game staff and advisory committees. However, according to the ministry, “it was determined by the two councils when reviewing their 2020-2021 meeting cycle, that these complex topics, and the necessary public participation required, could not be handled by telephone or conference call. website”.

While I understand that it is problematic to arrange and allow remote public testimony at a Board of Game meeting, if Fish and Game advisory committees and staff will be permitted to present and testify by telephone and/or web conference, in order not to expose yourself to a “high risk environment” where “COVID-19 may be present at this meeting”, it would seem that there is a way to ensure that this also works for the public.

The next Board of Game meeting will cover hunting and trapping regulations for Region IV, which covers Game Management Units 9, 10, 11, 13, 14A, 14B, 16 and 17, comprising areas of Glennallen, Palmer, King Salmon and Dillingham. Four years have passed since the Board of Game last reviewed game population densities in Region IV, along with seasons and bag limits, and the Board has over 100 proposals to consider.

Alaska has one of the best public wildlife management and involvement systems in the country, but only if the public can afford to be involved. Written comments were permitted to be sent, but these do not have the same effect as public testimony, whether in person or remotely by telephone or web conference. It’s unfair and disenfranchises the general public when you tell them there’s a high risk to attend the meeting in person, have them sign a liability waiver, but that’s the only way to make their voices heard your voice.

If you would like to attend the Board of Game meeting in Wasilla in person to testify, you can Register online and sign the Acknowledgment of Risk and Waiver.

Mark Richards is the executive director of Resident Hunters of Alaska and vice chair of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee. These views are his.

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