Secretary Salazar Calls for Comprehensive Review of Native Alaskan Subsistence Policy and Programs

Last edited 09/29/2021

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told Native Alaska representatives today that he is launching a comprehensive review of the Department's subsistence management policies and programs on federal lands to make them work more effectively to meet the needs of Native Alaskan communities.

“We began managing the subsistence priority guaranteed by Congress nearly two decades ago,” Salazar told the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage via video remarks. “Together with you and other stakeholders, we believe it is time to look at where we have been, how we have come to this point, and what we must do to live up to our obligations under the law.

“This review will enable us to redefine change in a way that involves each and every one of you,” Salazar said. “With your help we can create change from the bottom up rather than simply imposing solutions from Washington.” The Federation is Alaska's largest Native organization.

The convention also heard from Interior Assistant Secretary- Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk; Kim Elton, Senior Advisor for Alaska Affairs at Interior; Wizi Garriott, a senior advisor to Assistant Secretary Echo Hawk; and Pat Pourchot, the Secretary's special assistant for Alaska affairs, based in Anchorage.

Elton, a member of the Alaska State Senate representing his hometown of Juneau before joining Interior, said Secretary Salazar has tasked this policy group with the responsibility to work with Native Alaska leaders and communities and other stakeholders on a subsistence mission that is designed to meet the challenges of the next three decades. Native Alaskans have used subsistence resources, such as fish, wildlife and plants, for thousands of years. Subsistence is critical to sustaining both the physical and spiritual culture of Native Alaskan peoples.

“The review is not simply structural; we will not ignore leadership or budget issues,” Elton said. “A fundamental premise will be that we can no longer expect the state to regain subsistence management on federal lands. We are here to stay, so we have the obligation to provide the best management system that we possibly can.”

Secretary Salazar has charged the team with developing a clear subsistence road map by early next year. “This administration's subsistence road map will not be developed from the top down,” Elton explained. “His management policies will be informed by the people who have to live with his policies—by you and others.”

The revamped subsistence management plan will operate based on several principals, including:

  • decision-making based on science and traditional knowledge;
  • an understanding of the practice and importance of subsistence; and, most importantly
  • a commitment to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) subsistence mandate—the promise made in law will not be compromised or relegated to a low priority status in this administration.

“In a few months, the Secretary will match his subsistence policy, crafted with your help, with the appointment of a chairman to the Subsistence Board who can best help us fulfill our subsistence obligations,” Elton said. “There is no pre-determined chair waiting in the wings. The Secretary will select a chair he feels will not let this administration's subsistence policy, based on law and science and the input of stakeholders, later be trumped by personality or politics.”

Concerning budget issues, Elton said that over time inflation and cuts have eroded the subsistence management budget, providing less money while the challenges grew. “For example, do the regional advisory councils have the capacity to fulfill their mandates, do we have the capacity to get the science we need to make management decisions to increase benefits for subsistence users, or do we have the management resources to work with all parties to effectively provide the subsistence preferences called for in Title VIII of ANILCA?”

Under ANILCA in the 1980s, the state managed resources on all lands for a subsistence priority until the McDowell Decision at the end of the 80s, Elton noted. During the 1990s, the federal government managed for subsistence on federal lands on a “temporary” basis — until the state could amend the Alaska constitution. Over the last decade or so, federal management has been in a limbo phase —reactive to the push and pull of outside forces.

“In the next decade, we will fulfill our obligations informed by the law and by the people protected by the law,” Elton said. “It will be hard, there is no perfect solution but there are much better approaches than what we've used until now and we ask you to help us find them.”

In recognition of the traditional reliance on wildlife, fish, and other resources to meet essential subsistence and cultural needs by rural Alaskan residents, Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) established a preference for subsistence hunting and fishing by rural residents on federal lands in Alaska. At the time of passage, the Act envisioned that the State of Alaska would manage subsistence uses on all lands in Alaska under the provisions of ANILCA. The Act stipulated the federal government would provide the federal priority of subsistence uses of fish and wildlife on federal lands if the State did not. The Alaska Supreme Court subsequently ruled the subsistence priority unconstitutional and caused the state to fall out of compliance with the ANILCA provisions. The federal government assumed responsibility for management of subsistence resources on federal lands, and certain waters, in the early 1990s.

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