Vince made a good point in another thread, concerning confusion at the BOG meetings, and I thought a separate thread concerning this would be in order. Here is what I thought as I watched the process for the first time.
My first response was disappointment over how few people were there. The tables up front, containing the board members, and what appeared to be several support staff, were full. But the area where the general public could sit was sparsely populated. I felt as lonely as a Unit 16 moose calf (that was a joke, and not indicative of my stance on predator control...). Anyway I'm not critical about that, because the chair I probably should have been occupying for many years sat empty too. But I was disappointed that in Alaska's largest city there were few folks at the meetings. I was in and out of the meetings for parts of eight days and the number ebbed and flowed quite a bit. Probably people were coming when they thought "their issue" was going to be discussed.
POOR AUDIO QUALITY
I don't know what the meetings sounded like online (I haven't listened to the files yet), but sitting in the room it was terrible. Some of the folks that testified could barely be heard. Maybe they were pacing themselves because they knew they'd be sitting there talking for hours on end (and some did). I have very poor hearing and had to move clear to the front to have even a chance of hearing what was said. Even folks sitting at the tables up front (board members and staff) were very hard to hear. This made conversations very difficult to follow. Overall I thought the audio quality was very poor.
A GAME PLAN
Right away I noticed that they'd grouped like proposals together. At first I thought they'd just go through them in numerical order, and I had the whole proposal booklet in my laptop hoping that's what we'd do. But it became clear that many proposals were similar, and that the similar ones were scattered throughout the booklet. So prior to the meetings, they re-ordered them by region. At the meetings, the plan was to go through them region-by-region. In principle that sounds like a reasonable approach, but it is complicated by the fact that some issues cover multiple regions.
The discussions started on Monday with GMU6- the Cordova Area. That went pretty well, but by the time they got to Region II (SouthCentral), it got confusing. For example they had a biologist from Ontario Canada give what I thought was an excellent presentation on bear snaring (again, I'm not stating my opinion on snaring itself, just saying it was a good presentation of the information), and I thought they'd go right in to the proposals on snaring. They didn't get to that for several days after the presentation. In some cases a proposal would be acted upon, and the vote taken. But then (sometimes days later) they'd get to another related proposal and resurrect the first one, amend it or take other action on it, go back to the next one and do something different, call someone else to testify on it, and then maybe take action or table it for further discussion when yet another proposal would be discussed. This was very confusing, and it happened all the way up to the last day. I'm not sure what the solution is, because the original sheet had 247 proposals in it and they skipped all over that thing. The impression I got (this is just my opinion) was that this was not a deliberate attempt to confuse anyone, it just worked out that way because as they got into each proposal they realized things they didn't know, or had missed before.
I don't know how much lobbying was going on between meetings, and I did not listen in on other people's conversations, but I do know there were members of the public who were there every day who had agendas of their own. In one case it was a guide who was working with Paralyzed Veterans of America, taking disabled vets hunting for black bears. I didn't get the whole drift of whether these were all nonresident hunters, residents or both. I think he wanted to be able to take guided hunters on bait stations (but I'm not certain). Another guy I saw there was (I think) a representative of the SFW organization. He was there all day, every day as far as I could tell, and he took copious notes. His hearing was evidently very good, because wrote a lot of stuff down. Occasionally I would ask him what happened and he would tell me how they voted on something. I don't remember his name (sorry), but I think I have his card around here somewhere. He indicated that he occasionally posts on our site, but I didn't catch his screen name. Another guy who was a regular (but he dropped out later in the meetings) was Robert Fithian, the Executive Director of APHA. I know his name because I just read it off his business card (I'm not a member of APHA, by the way). He and I had a conversation about some alleged guide-bashing he thought I'd done here in ODD. Some of you who think I am part of a vast guide conspiracy might find that interesting. As we talked I remembered that I had once (one hunt) guided for a former leader of APHA years ago, and I had said some negative things about that experience. I think this is what he was referring to. He explained that they knew about that other guy and had dealt with him a while ago. I think he was telling me that APHA had cleaned house (if that is true, I would be willing to look at them again, but that's another matter).
At any rate, these folks and others certainly had an interest in some of the proposals, and I saw them talking to board members and support staff during breaks. There was a guy from the attorney general's office (I think I have that right) who was the board's legal expert. He was pulled aside for a lot of private discussion, presumably concerning matters of law. Other people were pulled aside during breaks by members of the public, and discussions ensued. Following these discussions, sometimes proposals that had already been acted upon would be resurrected and different action taken.
THE VOTING PROCESS
As they resolved a proposal they would frequently vote 'NA" (no action) on ones that were identical or similar to ones they had already carried or failed. In some cases, they took several proposals and scavenged parts from each to come up with an amended version. If that amended version carried, it received a "CA" (carried as amended) vote. On breaks, someone would post an updated list of the amendments (by region) which showed what action was taken on each proposal. The problem was if it received a "CA" vote, there was no way of knowing what the amended version was, unless you were able to hear and follow the discussion beforehand. I would assume that this information will be forthcoming on their website (but I have not seen it yet).
I'm going to share some observations about some of the board members. These are just my opinions, based on very superficial observation only during these meetings, so don't beat me up over it. I don't personally know any of the board members, but I recognized Ted Spraker from the ADFG moose video. Of all of the members, I was impressed most by his professionalism. He asked a lot of great questions and made a lot of well-reasoned arguments for or against various proposals. He was very clear, for example, on the difference between predator control and hunting (though this line is blurry for some). He was also acutely aware that the predator control program in GMU 16 would come under intense public scrutiny, therefore it must be "done right". The black bear guide I mentioned earlier was called back up to testify at one point late in the meetings, and Ted said specifically that he thought it unwise to make a decision for the benefit of a guide. It was clear that Ted had invested a lot of time in understanding the proposals, and was well aware of the issues. There were few times when he appeared not to know something. One of the other members, Lewis Bradley, was very interested in the Dall sheep proposals, and seemed well-informed. He asked a lot of good questions and appeared to be slanted toward ensuring the game populations themselves were healthy (my opinion). Cliff Judkins, the chairman, was an interesting fellow. I didn't really know what to make of him. Often he would wander far off into stories of the old days and such. But he seemed superficial and I didn't get the impression that he really understood all the issues. He was cavalier about the bowhunting proposals, frequently claiming that "bowhunters have the same privileges as rifle hunters, so they don't need special privileges". I don't think (my opinion) that he was anti-bowhunting though. It was more like anti-privilege. He didn't want to set up special opportunities for bowhunters, unless it was required because a hunt took place near residential areas. Several times he commented that bowhunting was a choice, and that bowhunters just needed to get farther off the trail if they wanted to be successful, or words to that effect. Stosh Hoffman didn't say much at all. I think the only time I heard him speak (other than "yes" or "no" when proposals were voted on), was a short bit of testimony on Saturday I think. One of the other board members asked him a question. He's from Bethel and I was hoping to hear more from him. But he's a new board member (I was told), so maybe he's a bit shy. Having said all that, I really appreciate all the work these folks did to prepare for these meetings. Someone told me that this is a volunteer position. I think it's great that people are willing to step up to the plate to do this, whether I agree with their views or not. It has to be a lot of work. One evening they skipped dinner and met until 9pm. There were some very long days.
OTHER COMMENTS / OPINIONS
I wasn't too upset about the lobbying efforts, because I heard that no decisions were final until the last gavel. I think a lot of the lobbying was intended to bring new information or factors to light. Is this a bad thing? That's a good question, and I'm not sure I know the answer. If I was a decision maker I'd want all the facts, and if some information came in late that changed my vote, I'd be glad for it. Better than than being stuck with a bad vote until next year. On the other hand, I can understand the point that all the information should be gathered ahead of time, so the board has all the facts before them when it's time to vote.
A lot has been said about corruption in this process, and with this board. Those are very serious accusations. Nothing I saw indicated corruption. Does this mean that it did not happen? I don't know. One thing I do know is that people will sometimes lie to you for no apparent reason, and people are capable of doing some awful things. I also know that false accusations circulate about anyone who steps out in public, regardless of whether they are guilty or not. So I'm going to reserve judgment on the corruption issue until I know more about it.
My overall impressions of the BOG meetings were that some great information was presented, but I was confused much of the time by the constant switching from one topic to another, irrelevant remarks by some board members, re-hashing old issues that I thought were resolved, and the poor audio quality which made it impossible to follow what was being said.
Okay, this is long enough. What's your take?