A recently vacated Wildlife Trooper post in Unalaska is staying empty for now. It means staffing levels will be unconventionally low in the town that’s home to the patrol vessel Stimson.
Being an Alaska Wildlife Trooper in Unalaska means having two jobs: working on land with local law enforcement, and going out to sea aboard the Stimson.
The boat patrols commercial fisheries in the Bering Sea and Western Alaska year-round. It’s been homeported in Unalaska since 1998. Trooper sergeant Robin Morrisett has been with it off and on since its second voyage.
“For the longest time we’ve had three people” in Unalaska’s trooper office, he says. “Prior to the Stimson being out here, we had one and two positions. Then when the Stimson got out here, we’ve always had three.”
The state considered moving the Stimson to Kodiak this year, but Unalaska lobbied to keep it, saying the town is in the best location to keep tabs on all the region’s fisheries.
So the Stimson is staying put – but not all its troopers are.
Trooper Jason Ball left Unalaska with his family last weekend. He’s taking a new position as a pilot in Anchorage. And with resources tight across the state, his position will be left open indefinitely.
“Now it’ll just be the sergeant and one trooper that’s out here,” says Sergeant Morrisett.
In the past, he says two troopers have gone out on the Stimson’s patrols, while another has stayed back in Unalaska.
“Now with not having three people here in town, that’ll leave two troopers for enforcement on the boat, and then zero people here in town,” he says. “Which, you know… sometimes we leave, and the guy in town just keeps on doing his work and then picks up work as it comes in. Sometimes … it just kind of all depends.”
Morrisett isn’t too worried about the deficit. He says local police share in their workload of traffic stops and warrant arrests, anyway.
And if an Unalaska trooper ever did need to stay behind while the Stimson went out to sea? Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says the state plans to fly in substitute troopers from Anchorage or Kodiak to go on the boat as needed.
Of course, it costs money to make that happen – but Peters says that’s something they have to balance against the cost of filling vacancies full-time.
“They just need to be looked at and analyzed and see where our greatest needs are,” Peters says. “And [we] also look at other resources on our abilities to get troopers out to places when they’re needed, versus whether we need somebody there on more of a regular basis.”
So the deficit in Unalaska isn’t necessarily permanent. But with 10 total wildlife trooper vacancies statewide, Peters says it’s something the town will have to deal with for now.