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A Human Element in the Bureaucratic Process
Boards Support is not something you find at the lumber yard or in a hardware store, although it works in much the same way; upholding and supporting the board, and often going unseen.
In Alaska we frequently read and hear about the Board of Game or Board of Fisheries, the two groups responsible for adopting fish and wildlife regulations. The boards are supported administratively by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) but function independently. The boards meet several times a year, taking input from the public and from state agencies, and make decisions about allocating resources. The department is then responsible for management of the resources based on those decisions.
The Boards Support Section within the ADF&G provides technical and logistical support to the two boards to help them operate effectively and efficiently. Boards Support is integral to making sure the process runs smoothly.
“One important thing that we do, and do well, is to put a human element in the bureaucratic process,” said Diana Cote, Executive Director with the Boards Support. She served as director of the support section for the Board of Game, and now is with the Board of Fisheries. “The process of making a proposal or presenting to the board can seem intimidating. We are often the first point of contact to help people navigate through the system.”
Each board holds three to seven public meetings each year. Meetings last from two days to two weeks, to review, hear testimony and deliberate hundreds of proposals.
“I really believe in the process, it really works very well,” Cote said. “One person with one proposal can have a huge effect and make a difference. They don’t need a certain number of signatures or community votes to submit a proposal, just one idea.”
Board proposals for creating or changing regulations often come from people living, recreating, or making a living from their local resources. “A person may have noticed an increase of Dolly Varden in a certain stream and would like the opportunity to catch them,” Cote said. “They aren’t necessarily politically savvy, or looking to dramatically change society; they just want to allow access or harvest of the local bounty.”
Board proposals also come from ADF&G staff and hunting and fishing organizations. Advisory committees also offer input: there are 81 advisory committees statewide, local forums that discuss and make recommendations on fish, wildlife, and habitat issues before each board. Conservation groups that want to increase or restrict harvest opportunities, or provide protection to a certain stock or species of fish or wildlife, also offer their proposals.
Bag limits, allocation and access, methods and means are the stuff proposals are made of. Boards Support makes sure that everyone knows when, how, and where to submit proposals, and then gets a chance to discuss the merits of each one.
“We are there to help people figure out the best way to get their message across,” Cote said. “Not that we support their ideas, but we offer the assistance they need to ensure that the decision makers hear their message.”
Just five permanent and five seasonal employees work to help ideas become regulations.
These staffers are quite familiar with the catch phrase, “other duties as assigned.” One day they are setting up microphones and making sure testimony is documented and recorded, and that the meeting process goes smoothly. The next week they may be creating a webpage, filing documents, showing someone how to fill out a proposal form, creating budgets, getting proposal books printed on time (and for a competitive price), planning for the next season’s meeting schedule, or serving as liaison between the various parties.
They support and advise over 1,000 members on the 81 different advisory committees (AC’s), in addition to making sure board members are informed and prepared. They are also very involved at the ADF&G, keeping the divisions and commissioner’s office apprised of recent issues and concerns from both the boards’ and the peoples’ perspective.
ADF&G is one the Boards’ main constituents and partners for making regulations work and for providing information. “As Executive Directors, it’s our job to make sure that the various parties understand each other,” Cote said. “We report on meetings or present key issues, both to department staff and board members, to make sure that there is good communication back and forth.”
The AC members often want the Boards Support staff to serve as advocates for certain issues, but it’s important for them to remain neutral. “Often times our staff will be simultaneously helping two separate AC’s with opposing views; one may want to open an area to hunting and another will want the area closed,” Cote said. “So it’s really important for all of us to remain impartial.”
A Board of Fish Chairman once commented that he would never want to play poker with Cote because she has the straightest poker face he had ever seen. “I don’t ever give my opinion, not even after a regulation has passed,” Cote said. “I’ll let them know I’ve heard their opinion and respect their views, but they never get out of me what I think.”
One of the benefits for Boards Support staff is that they are exposed to and receive broad knowledge on all the important fish and wildlife issues throughout the state. They see and hear first hand how resources affect local economies, create bonds and provide meaning to Alaskans on many levels.
Meeting people from all around the state is what Cote enjoys best. “Seeing an elder from a small community come and testify in Yup’ik, with their grandson translating, watching the respectful interaction that they have, and seeing the history and perspective that the elder brings to the issue is pretty neat,” Cote said. “We see first hand how important our resources are to families, businesses, and the cultures throughout our state. I get to meet and hear moms and dads presenting opinions or ideas on ways to make it possible for them to hunt or fish in order to feed their kids. We also see entrepreneurs with innovative ideas seeking access to a certain resource or with a new management strategy to make it work. It truly is a gratifying and fulfilling part of this job.”
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