Comprehensive Review of Subsistence Program Calls for Board Action to Strengthen Rural Representation, Regional Advisory Councils
ANCHORAGE – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today announced the appointment of Tim Towarak as the Chair of the Federal Subsistence Board in Alaska. Towarak, an Alaska Native and a life-long resident of the rural village of Unalakleet, Alaska, is president of the Bering Straits Native Corporation and co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
“Tim has participated in subsistence activities all his life and has demonstrated a keen understanding of the needs of rural residents of Alaska as well as the workings of government and the private sectors,” said Secretary Salazar, whose department recently completed a review of the subsistence program management. “With his experience and understanding, he is uniquely qualified to lead the Board in carrying out improvements that will strengthen its role in managing fish and wildlife on the public lands in Alaska.”
Secretary Vilsack commended Towarak, saying “We are confident Tim can lead the Board's revitalization initiative. The federal subsistence management program embodies key USDA roles and priorities, including sustaining livelihoods of rural families, ensuring access to healthy and affordable food, providing jobs in rural communities, sustaining culture and traditional ways of life, and strengthening relationships with Alaska Native tribes.”
The Federal Subsistence Board manages the fish and wildlife harvest for rural residents who depend on these resources for their lives and livelihoods. The board includes the Alaska Directors for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Alaska Regional Forester for the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. The Board works through Regional Advisory Councils.
The program review proposed several administrative and regulatory changes to strengthen the program and make it more responsive to the concerns of those who rely on it for their subsistence needs. One proposal calls for adding two rural Alaskans to the Board, which allows additional regional representation and increases stakeholder input in the decision-making process. This change would be open to public comment through the rule-making process.
The Secretaries also are asking the new Chair and the Board to ensure that the Regional Advisory Councils are given the full authorities in the rule-making process that they are granted in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and that the board take on greater responsibilities for budget preparation as well as hiring and evaluating the director of the Office of Subsistence Management.
The Board also is being requested to evaluate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it negotiated in 2008 with the State of Alaska to ensure it does not constrain federal subsistence management responsibilities. This evaluation will include all parties, including the Regional Advisory Councils.
Reviewers also received recommendations for statutory changes to better meet the goals of ANILCA and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. While these proposals are acknowledged, they fall outside the authorities of the Secretaries but will be forwarded to concerned Members of Congress and the relevant committees with oversight of the statutes.
Additional changes to the subsistence program may follow. Secretary Salazar has asked his Policy, Management and Budget team at Interior to conduct a professional management review of the Office of Subsistence Management to ensure that the organizational structure created nearly 20 years ago, and the budgets they live with, meet the increasingly complex research and management demands that have accrued through nearly two decades of court decisions and resource allocation challenges.
Additionally, the USDA Forest Service's Washington Office recently reviewed its Alaska Region's portion of the program. Recommendations based on that review are being evaluated and will be integrated with Interior's findings for consideration by both Departments.
Under Title VIII of ANILCA, rural residents of Alaska are given priority for subsistence uses of fish and wildlife on federal lands. The State of Alaska managed for the rural resident subsistence priority until a 1989 Alaska Supreme Court decision ruled the priority conflicted with the state's constitution. The Interior and Agriculture departments began managing the subsistence priority for wildlife on federal lands in 1992. Six years later, following a federal court ruling, federal management for subsistence fisheries in certain waters within or adjacent to federal lands was added to the responsibilities of the Interior and Agriculture departments.
The federal subsistence management structure was crafted as a temporary DOI/USDA program to meet the requirements of ANILCA until the state could amend its constitution and comply with Title VIII of that law. This DOI/USDA review was predicated on the assumption that the state is no longer attempting to regain management authority for the ANILCA subsistence priority, and that federal management will continue for the foreseeable future.