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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: North to Alaska – from Hillyard and Talk Radio to State Government

Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Local talk radio personality Rick Rydell has been off the air in Spokane for two years. He abruptly announced he was taking a sabbatical from KXLY in December 2016, amid speculation over a pending appointment in the Trump administration.

Rydell was a finalist for a position in EPA Region 10 but didn’t get the call. And now he’s landed his dream job. He will be serving Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy as special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It’s his first week on the job, and he’s enjoying it immensely.

Especially the part where the appointment of a limited government talk radio guy to a responsible position in state government is driving some Anchorage news media “bat guano crazy.” Rydell characteristically used the more unrefined version of the colloquialism in a recent interview.

Rydell is a stage name adopted to avoid confusion with his father, who also worked in radio. The gubernatorial appointment formally went to Richard Green, who describes himself as a Hillyard boy who started with KREM at age 17. Green has also worked stints at KJRB and KZZU as well as other stations around the Pacific Northwest. While the Spokane area was listening to Green on KXLY, he kept up his long-running program on KENI “Alaska’s News Talk Radio.” He signed off KENI for the last time on Dec. 14.

What critics are overlooking are his qualifications. Green first went north to Alaska as a teenager, was a hunting and fishing guide for 20 years and served a term on the Anchorage Fish & Game Advocacy Committee in the late 1990s. He chose not to seek re-election but continued to be active in a number of sportsmen-focused groups, the constituency he serves as a liaison to the commissioner.

Alaska has a different system than Washington for setting natural resource priorities. Regional advisory committees in Alaska are elected for three-year terms, and make recommendations on policy to the Board of Fish and Game, the appointed guys, similar to Washington’s governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Commission. Alaska’s citizens have a direct voice through their regionally elected representatives. “Fish and game policy is very grassroots-oriented in Alaska,” Rydell said. “The foundation for natural resource policy is in the state constitution.”

Alaska’s Article VIII establishes the purpose of state management as preserving naturally occurring fish and wildlife populations for common use, managed for sustained yield. Or as Gov. Dunleavy is fond of reminding everyone, refocusing policy on Alaskans’ dinner plates instead of bending to pressure from interest groups flying in from New York City.

“Too often we get bogged down in arguing over how we manage,” Green said. “We need to go back to why we manage.” For Alaskans, it’s at least partly about survival. The recent Anchorage earthquake was “only” a 7.0 and caused significant damage to roads. The 1964 Good Friday earthquake was a 9.2.

The next magnitude-9-plus quake could easily take out roads, ports and landing strips, blocking all shipments in and out of Alaska for an extended time.

“Our game and fish managed on sustained yield principles are our protein supply. If the food delivery infrastructure is broken down, stores run out in three days. If we manage on sustained yield principles, then we always have that resource available,” Green said.

Gov. Dunleavy was a longtime Rydell/Green listener on his drive-time Anchorage radio program, focused half on local regional politics and half on fish and game issues. It was logical to pull him into an outreach position as the state works to rebuild trust in the department. Green is committed to his adopted Alaska roots.

But Green admitted it could be a good background to come back to Washington and work on reconnecting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to its roots. He’d like to see Washington return to a similar focus on managing for abundance, encouraging the next generation of hunters, and supporting families who want to put good, healthy food on the table.

Asked if he’d ever come back to Washington, Green replied, “It’s safe to never say no,” and paraphrased esteemed Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ farewell speech on the Senate floor. “Home is where the heart is, and I have two homes – in Washington and my beloved Alaska.”

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