Fish Commissioner Names New Habitat Director

A biologist from the U.S. Geological Survey has been appointed to lead the state’s Habitat division.

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Tony DeGange is currently the chief of the ecosystem and geography offices at the Alaska Science Center. DeGange says he was recruited by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten about the job, and that he supports the division’s conservation mission.

“As more and more people live on the earth and there’s a lot more development, we have a responsibility to take care of our natural resources, and when we do development to try to do it in a way that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife,” says DeGange.

DeGange has worked for USGS for more than 30 years, and has previously collaborated with Fish and Game on salmon habitat projects. He has also represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

DeGange takes over the position at a time when the division is reconsidering its habitat management process. Management plans for the state’s sanctuaries and reserves — like the McNeil River bear refuge and Minto Flats — were being rewritten under the previous director, Randy Bates. The policies were targeted by a petition campaign that described the changes as a “rollback,” and Bates was removed from the position earlier this January.

The process is currently on hold. DeGange says he will now have to figure out what to do with those plans.

“The criticisms were that the state wasn’t following a highly transparent and public process,” says DeGange. “One of the first things that Sam Cotten has charged me with is coming up with a recommendation on how to move forward.”

DeGange says those recommendations will likely come next month.