According to Alaska law, subsistence is the priority use of fish and game throughout most of the state.
Some Alaskans are born into a subsistence lifestyle. Others voluntarily select it. Alaska state law provides a priority for all Alaska residents, but carefully crafted regulations and abundance-based management also provide for increased subsistence harvest opportunities.
In the McGrath area, Nelchina Basin and Alaska Peninsula, the Department of Fish and Game has worked diligently with the Board of Game to increase moose and caribou populations for Alaska subsistence uses. These successes have been encouraging. For example, from 2004 through 2008, the moose population in the McGrath area nearly doubled in size and is now on the verge of meeting local needs completely.
In the areas of the state where it is most important, state policies, regulations and programs are designed to help put more food on Alaskans’ tables. Yet rural subsistence users are often disappointed that the same policy is not in place on federally managed lands.
Last October, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the current federal subsistence program would be reviewed to see what the federal government must do to live up to its “obligations under the law.” The subsistence review process was initiated to determine how the federal subsistence management program can better address the needs and expectations of Alaska’s subsistence users.
On Dec. 3, representatives from the 10 federal Regional Advisory Councils traveled to Anchorage to weigh in on this important issue. Among other points, the RACs voiced an overwhelming plea to the federal government to provide subsistence users with better wildlife management by joining the state’s predator management programs. The RACs have repeated this request for more than a decade.
The request creates a quandary for some federal land managers who, in recent years, have been unwilling to manage predators on federal lands.
Many Alaskans don’t realize that the state has the responsibility to manage wildlife on all lands, regardless of ownership. The courts have repeatedly recognized that the states’ sovereignty includes their authority to manage wildlife and is protected under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the principles of federalism it embodies.
Unfortunately for subsistence users, federal agencies control 60 percent of the land, and, in recent years, some federal managers have failed to support implementation of the state’s intensive management programs on federal land.
It is worth noting that this appeal for better management of federal land comes from rural Alaskans who have been granted a federal “rural” harvest preference on those lands. Many rural users who are surrounded by federal land are beginning to realize that a priority provides little benefit when resources are scarce. As one frustrated RAC representative stated, “Do we manage it to give rural residents a priority, or do we manage it to give them the scraps?”
Until a decision is made to manage important federal lands for more abundant wildlife harvests, many rural users will remain dissatisfied. While the “leave nature alone” approach might appease some, it rings hollow for those who are connected intimately to the land and its resources but are going hungry. With proper management and abundant resources, we can provide ample opportunities for a broad range of users.
Only time will tell what insights the federal subsistence review will produce. Perhaps more will come to realize that working cooperatively with the state to improve and enhance Alaska’s wildlife resources is far more productive than a dual management system that simply shifts the allocation of an already insufficient yield and further divides Alaskans. I certainly hope so.
Corey Rossi will assume the directorship of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation this week. He has served as the department’s assistant commissioner for the past year. Prior to that time, he worked as a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Wasilla.