DOI News

Issues Raised in Outreach Comments


From November 2009 through mid-January 2010, the Special Assistant to the Secretary for Alaska Affairs solicited comments and met with a wide variety of stakeholders in conducting the Secretary’s review of the federal subsistence program in Alaska. Listed below are the principal concerns raised by commenter’s. While representing most of the topics raised either verbally or in written comments, this list may not be exhaustive, and some topics or comments may have been inadvertently omitted. This list summarizes comments and concerns as presented in the review, and does not necessarily represent statements of fact or the views of the Secretary’s Office.

We invite your review of these issues. If you would like to comment on any of the issues below, or know of additional issues that should be added to the list, please submit them utilizing our email, fax, or physical addresses found here.

We are currently analyzing issues raised in preparation of draft recommendations to be considered by the Secretary.

I. Policy, Practices, Regulatory

Federal Subsistence Board (FSB)

  • Current FSB members (Regional and State Directors of federal agencies) don’t understand subsistence uses.
  • FSB does not adequately recognize the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADFG’s) authority to manage fish and wildlife, and to provide for non-subsistence as well as subsistence uses of fish and wildlife.
  • ADFG has been elevated to quasi-FSB member status.
  • Current FSB Chair is biased towards State of Alaska policies regarding subsistence.
  • FSB decision-making process is not transparent. Too many closed door meetings and executive sessions believed to involve decision-making by FSB.
  • FSB does not grant sufficient deference to Regional Advisory Councils (RACs).
  • Memorandum of Understanding between FSB and ADFG does not sufficiently preserve federal authority and responsibility for subsistence management.
  • RACs do not have enough time to review informational materials before FSB meetings.
  • FSB does not sufficiently rely on ADFG expertise, data and authority to manage fish and wildlife.
  • FSB relies too heavily on ADFG information and comments, which are biased against subsistence uses.
  • FSB does not give adequate consideration or deference to ADFG conservation concerns or state-provided priority for subsistence uses.
  • FSB decisions are impinging on other uses, particularly those that bring economic benefit to the State of Alaska or help pay for wildlife and fisheries management.
  • FSB interprets E.O. 13175 too narrowly, and should consult with tribes on Title VIII issues.

Regional Advisory Councils

  • 70:30 ratio of subsistence to non-subsistence users has diluted subsistence users’ voice on RAC’s.
  • 70:30 ratio of subsistence to non-subsistence users provides a constructive way of resolving user conflicts and brings valuable information to decision-making process.
  • RAC members selected to fill non-subsistence seats are often subsistence users, and members selected to fill subsistence seats are often non-subsistence users.
  • Selection process for RAC members is not transparent.
  • Decision to restrict mandatory FSB deference to “takings” regulations has significantly reduced the RAC’s role in federal subsistence decisions.
  • Interest in RAC membership is declining, resulting in some RAC seats not being filled and diminishing vitality of RACs.
  • RAC meetings are sometimes cancelled due to lack of a quorum; often it is the subsistence users who are unable to attend.
  • Establishment of working groups outside of the RAC process undermines the RAC role.
  • Decision that RACs lack authority to submit requests for reconsideration (RFR’s) undermines the RAC role.
  • RACs do not provide sufficient rationale for their recommendations. 
  • RACS do not comply with statutory and regulatory standards and do not adhere to scientific and conservation principles.
  • RACs receive inadequate instruction on FSB processes and standards.
  • Reduced RAC funding has limited meetings to hub or road-accessible areas, restricting subsistence user attendance.
  • RAC meetings are dominated by agency staff; subsistence users have limited resources to attend meetings.
  • RAC members, particularly RAC chairs, need additional clerical and technical support to interpret and respond effectively to the voluminous amount of paperwork they are given.
  • RAC’s do not have sufficient opportunity to review and comment on staff analyses developed for FSB.

Regulatory Process

  • Two-year regulatory cycle is a disadvantage to subsistence users due to lag time in addressing resource issues, increased use of emergency and special actions (which circumvent RACs), longer learning curve for RAC members, less communication with federal staff.
  • Two-year regulatory cycle works well because it allows more time for proposal evaluation, staff interaction with subsistence users; reduces redundancy and recurrence of proposals.
  • Federal regulations should mirror state regulations to reduce complexity and confusion for subsistence users.
  • Federal regulations mirroring state regulations reduce priority for and accommodation of subsistence uses.
  • Regulatory process is not transparent; not easily understood or participated in by subsistence users.
  • Criteria, definitions, and standards for various decisions are not clear (e.g., rural and customary and traditional use determinations, closures, “significant commercial enterprise”).
  • FSB does not sufficiently acknowledge or defer to ADFG authority, expertise and judgment.
  • ADFG already provides for subsistence uses; FSB should only adopt regulations where state isn’t providing adequate priority.
  • FSB isn’t sufficiently considering impacts of FSB decisions on other uses of fish and wildlife.
  • ADFG overuses RFR’s to delay and thwart decisions of FSB.
  • There is no process for quantifying subsistence needs to determine when adequate subsistence priority has been provided.
  • Wholesale adoption of state regulations at inception of federal program is no longer appropriate to meet long-term Title VIII responsibilities.
  • State local advisory committees have not been incorporated into the regulatory process.
  • Federal Subsistence Staff Committee is too involved in decision-making process.
  • Federal Subsistence Staff Committee provides good complement to OSM staff work and conduit to their specific agencies, and good support for FSB members.
Office of Subsistence Management (OSM)
  • There are too many former ADFG staff within the OSM.
  • There are too few Alaska Native staff within OSM, and they do not hold key positions.
  • OSM is too structurally tied to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); staff are overly influenced by FWS and there is not enough of a multi-agency aspect to OSM work.
  • OSM funding has declined, leading to fewer staff, less RAC support, less research and analytic capacity, and diminished overall effectiveness of OSM.

Research, Monitoring and Information Management

  • FSB has moved further away from relying on local users’ knowledge and more towards relying on ADFG data, which is not always accurate.
  • FSB has moved away from relying on science and more towards relying on anecdotal information.
  • There is too much duplication of effort between ADFG and OSM staff. OSM and ADFG need to improve communication and coordination.
  • FSB should rely more heavily on, and defer more consistently to, ADFG data and analyses.
  • Federal subsistence program relies too heavily on ADFG information, which is biased against subsistence uses.
  • Capacity and funding within the federal subsistence program is inadequate to carry out necessary research on subsistence species and uses.
  • Subsistence fisheries on the Yukon River are crucial to subsistence users, but offshore and in-season management actions have significantly diminished subsistence harvests.
    Subsistence Resource Commissions [Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Section 808]
  • Subsistence Resource Commissions (SRC’s) are not effective in influencing National Park Service management decisions.
  • SRC’s do not coordinate well with RACs.

Federal Land Use Actions (ANILCA Section 810)

  • Federal land managers do perfunctory Section 810 analyses, when permitting activities have adverse impacts on subsistence uses.
  • Subsistence users are not adequately consulted during 810 evaluations.

Rural/Non-rural Determinations
  • Current guidelines are imprecise and vague, and determinations are inconsistent.
  • Rural determinations are divisive and pit communities against each other.
  • Inclusion of military bases can push community population levels over population size thresholds.
  • Saxman non-rural determination should be revisited.

Customary and Traditional (C&T) Use Determinations
  • C&T use determination process is confusing and inconsistently applied.
  • C&T determinations should be made by community, not species.
  • C&T has evolved into a Section 804 process (allocating among subsistence users), and pits communities against each other.
  • Eight C&T factors adopted from state subsistence program are not necessarily appropriate for a long-term federal subsistence program.
  • Positive C&T findings should require a long-term consistent history of use, not just opportunistic, occasional use.

Intensive Management/Predator Control
  • Need to clarify FSB authority to authorize predator management activities intended to benefit subsistence users.
  • FSB is not fulfilling its responsibility to subsistence users because it is not controlling predators to enhance subsistence uses.
  • Title VIII does not require or authorize the FSB to control predators to benefit subsistence users, and the FSB is transcending its authority by adopting proposals whose underlying purpose is to control predators.
  • FSB is undermining agency standards regarding intensive management (e.g. “natural diversity”) as it begins to implement predator control.

Customary Trade
  • Customary trade should be regulated; it is being abused.
  • Customary trade is permissible under Title VIII and should not be regulated.
  • Need to define “significant commercial enterprise”.

Law Enforcement
  • Law enforcement is excessive and unfairly targets subsistence users.
  • People sometimes forego subsistence harvesting for fear of inadvertently violating laws due to complexity of dual (federal/state) regulations, confusion over land boundaries.
Cooperative Agreements (ANILCA Section 809)
  • The federal subsistence program should increase its use of cooperative agreements with local and tribal entities to fulfill data and research needs.
  • Cooperative agreements with local entities and landowners would help elicit support for regulations and management activities.
II. Title VIII Statutory Issues

Restriction of Subsistence Priority to “Rural Residents”
  • Limiting subsistence priority to rural residents undermines ability of Alaska Natives to engage in practices necessary to long-term survival of their cultures. Title VIII should be amended to provide for “Native plus rural” or “tribal plus rural”.

    Lands Subject to Title VIII Subsistence Priority

  • Current definition of federal lands and waters does not adequately cover traditional areas utilized by subsistence users, causes too much conflict with non-subsistence users, and does not adequately meet the mandates of Title VIII for protection of subsistence uses. Most notably, Native Corporation lands are important subsistence use areas but are excluded from federal management under Title VIII.

Salmon Bycatch
  • Bering Sea pollock fishery is reducing the escapement of Chinook (and possibly chum) salmon in the Yukon River (and other rivers), adversely impacting subsistence uses.

Title VIII as “Indian Legislation”
  • The federal subsistence program should consider Title VIII to be “Indian legislation”.

Costs of Defending Title VIII in Lawsuits
  • Alaska Native entities have spent millions of dollars defending their concerns in Title VIII litigation. An Alaska Native Fund should be established to help defray these costs.

III. Other Statutory Issues

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)
  • Sea otter populations in some areas, particularly southeast Alaska, are too high and are damaging subsistence resources such as shellfish.
  • Funding for MMPA Section 119 co-management agreements is insufficient, and should be incorporated in agency budget requests.
  • Need to reauthorize MMPA, with amendments.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • Alaska Natives should be exempt from requirement to purchase federal duck stamps.
  • Migratory bird co-management bodies need additional funding and they should be
    contracted or compacted out to an Alaska Native entity.