For those people who had been planning a trip to hunt the incredible region of northwest Alaska, home to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, they probably got wind of the proposal to close federal public lands to moose and caribou hunting in game management units 23 and 26A. This proposal would have affected all non-federally qualified users (NFQUs), or simply put but not entirely accurate, anyone who does not live within that region. On June 16th the Federal Subsistence Board held a special telephonic hearing to discuss proposal WSA21-01 and voted to postpone a decision on the proposal until 2022. This means that those people who had trips planned for this fall are still able to go. Hunting has not been closed but the issue is far from resolved.
Proposal WSA21-01 was submitted by the Northwest Arctic Subsistence Regional Advisory Council (SRAC). The council is made up of a group of hunters and anglers who live in the region and provide the Office of Subsistence Management and Federal Subsistence Board with proposed Federal hunting and trapping regulation changes and other information from hunters in the area to assist with Federal subsistence management. This system of Federal management is unique to Alaska and was created under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), a landmark piece of legislation guiding the management of Federal lands in Alaska and establishing many of the national wildlife refuges and parks in the state.
Under the Federal subsistence management program, rural residents have priority use of fish and game resources on federal lands and waters within the state for subsistence purposes. The intent was to create protections for the subsistence lifestyle that many of the states’ rural residents rely on, as competition for game and fish resources grew with the growing Alaskan population. Over the years, the Federal subsistence management system has been the subject of much conflict within Alaska and outside, even going so far as the United States Supreme Court. These conflicts often pit hunters against hunters and can leave us divided and resentful. These feelings occur on both sides of the coin, federally qualified users (FQUs) feel that NFQUs limit their opportunity by over pressuring a hunt unit, NFQUs have their opportunities limited when a Federal land closure is put into regulation.
WSA21-01 was a byproduct of this ongoing conflict. The proposal is an attempt at a solution to perceived hunter conflict, a conflict that has been going on in that region for many years, demonstrated by the previous federal land closures and restrictions on use of aircraft. The underlying reasons for this proposal are not isolated to this region either. The proposed and accepted closure of Federal lands for unit 13 in 2020 were the result of perceived hunter conflict and harvest opportunity for FQUs being limited by hunting pressure from NFQUs. The current proposals in southeast Alaska have similar roots. So, what is the solution? There likely is no silver bullet, but we can start with conversation.
As Alaska BHA continues to monitor the progress on these proposals we will work with involved stakeholders, and we will listen. We will continue to lobby the Federal Subsistence Board and Office of Subsistence Management to prevent closures, but this doesn't resolve the underlying issues that need to be addressed. The frustrations of the rural residents that rely on subsistence resources will not go away and that will lead to more proposed closures. We need to take a proactive stance to address every aspect of these problems. We are a community of hunters and anglers, our shared values outweigh our differences and we must work together towards a solution for these challenges.