AK Native Subsistence - 3.14.14





Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs

Legislative Hearing on a Discussion Draft bill, “The Alaska Native Subsistence Co-Management Demonstration Act of 2014”

March 14, 2014

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior's views on the discussion draft of the “Alaska Native Subsistence Co-Management Demonstration Act of 2014.” We provide this statement for informational purposes as the Subcommittee evaluates whether it intends to proceed with legislation. The Department recognizes the benefits of co-management of subsistence use by Alaska Natives and stands ready to work with the Subcommittee to achieve a co-management structure while maintaining the basic integrity of wildlife management principles and reducing conflict between laws and jurisdictions.

The discussion draft of the “Alaska Native Subsistence Co-Management Demonstration Act of 2014” would authorize a demonstration program that allows for State-Federal-Tribal co-management of wildlife throughout the traditional hunting territory of the Ahtna people. The draft legislation would establish the Ahtna Inter-Tribal Wildlife Commission (AITWC), which would be solely responsible for the management of all wildlife on Ahtna lands.

As we continue to fully assess the mechanism prescribed in the draft legislation and evaluate its impacts, the Department looks forward to fully engaging with the Subcommittee and the Alaska Native community on any legislation that is introduced.


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We take management actions to ensure that these natural resources are available now, and for future generations of Americans. In Alaska, we have a special responsibility to ensure these resources are available now and in the future for rural Alaskans who rely on subsistence harvest.

Since 1990, the Federal Subsistence Program has ensured that rural residents in Alaska have the opportunity to pursue a subsistence way of life, as envisioned by Congress and enacted in the ANILCA. The Federal Subsistence Program's success is based on our ability to hear concerns of the user groups and craft regulations that meet subsistence needs while ensuring sustainable resources. We are constantly balancing the demands of the subsistence user with multiple legal mandates, and other public interests. Decisions are carefully weighed, with public involvement, to consider sound harvest limits that comply with recognized principles of fish and wildlife management federal and state laws and international treaties while providing prioritized subsistence use whenever possible.

Alaska Subsistence Overview

The customary and traditional harvest and use of wild, renewable resources for food, shelter, clothing, tools, transportation, handicrafts, barter, sharing, and trade, commonly called “subsistence,” has a long history in Alaska. Alaska Native peoples have depended on subsistence for thousands of years. In more recent history, non-Native peoples living in rural Alaska have come to rely on natural resources for their livelihoods as well.

The management of subsistence harvests of natural resources is complicated. It is governed by many laws and statutes that are not seamless in their mandates, and have differing provisions for who is eligible to harvest. For example, management of subsistence harvest of marine mammals is governed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Under the MMPA, coastal dwelling Alaska Natives may harvest marine mammals for subsistence purposes or for the creation and sale of authentic native handicrafts or articles of clothing. Management of subsistence harvest of migratory birds is governed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA was amended to allow for spring/summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds by Alaska Natives and permanent resident non-natives with legitimate subsistence hunting needs living in designated subsistence hunting areas in Alaska.

Within the MBTA Protocol Amendment of 1996, Congress charged the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate annual regulations for migratory bird subsistence hunting in Alaska for the purposes of conserving migratory birds and perpetuating subsistence hunting customs and cultures. Congress also provided Alaska Natives a meaningful role in management decisions affecting the customary subsistence hunting opportunities. The MBTA Protocol Amendment also invited the State of Alaska to participate in a management body that included Alaska Natives and the Secretary of the Interior, represented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This led to the creation of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC).

Similarly, input and information from local residents and users has been integrated into federal management of marine mammals through such organizations as the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Nanuq Commission.

Subsistence management of land mammals, fisheries and upland birds on federal public lands in Alaska is governed by Title VIII of ANILCA, which allows for a subsistence preference for rural Alaskans. In addition, Alaska State laws govern management of resources for subsistence uses on State lands, on private lands which include Alaska Native Corporation lands, and federal public lands open to uses by non-federally qualified users.

Historical Background

ANILCA is a broad statute that established 106 million acres of federal lands as conservation units, including national wildlife refuges, national parks, preserves, national monuments in the national forest system and wild and scenic rivers, thereby enlarging federal holdings dedicated to conservation in Alaska to more than 131 million acres. Eighty percent of the lands in the National Wildlife Refuge System are in Alaska and sixty-five percent of all National Park Service lands are in Alaska. Fifty-six percent of all National Wilderness Preservation System lands (within national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests) are in Alaska.

Recognizing the unique characteristics of Alaska, and the unique history of subsistence users in Alaska, Congress also provided in Title VIII of ANILCA, a priority to rural residents for subsistence uses on federal public lands in Alaska—well over 230 million acres comprising over 60 percent of the State. It is important to note that even though subsistence is a priority use identified in ANILCA, maintaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife is the top priority. ANILCA fulfilled the intent of Congress after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) to provide for a subsistence priority on federal public lands.

The State of Alaska managed subsistence on federal lands until 1989, when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the rural residency preference required by ANILCA violated the equal access clause of the Alaska Constitution. As a consequence, from 1992 to the present, the federal government has been responsible for subsistence management on federal public lands, and assumed additional subsistence responsibilities for management of subsistence fisheries in 1998.

In 2009, the Secretary of the Interior conducted a review of the federal subsistence management program. The intent of the review was to “ensure that the program is best serving rural Alaskans and that the letter and spirit of Title VIII are being met.” As a result of the review, the Secretary of the Interior, with the concurrence of the Secretary of Agriculture, made recommendations for changes. These recommended changes have been adopted by federal regulators and administrators, or are in the process of being adopted.

The Federal Subsistence Management Program

The Federal Subsistence Management Program was developed when the federal government became involved in subsistence management on federal public lands following the 1989 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court. The Federal Subsistence Management Program is multi-faceted. It involves five federal agencies, a federal and public-member decision-making board, 10 Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils, and partnerships with Alaska Native and rural organizations as well as with the State of Alaska.

The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture delegated authority to manage the subsistence priority use on federal public lands to the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB). The FSB is comprised of eight members, including: the Regional Directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the State Director of the Bureau of Land Management; and the Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service. Three public members who represent rural subsistence users are also members of the board, and one of whom serves as the FSB's chair. These board members are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, with the concurrence of the Secretary of Agriculture.

The Office of Subsistence Management, administratively housed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is responsible for facilitating and providing administrative and technical support to implement the program. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides fisheries expertise that focuses on in-season management and conducting biological assessments and monitoring to ensure that subsistence harvests are consistent with conservation goals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also responsible for extensive outreach and tribal and ANCSA corporation consultation responsibilities. Other agencies within the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service, represented on the Federal Subsistence Board, have similar conservation, enforcement, outreach, and consultation responsibilities.

The Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils are a unique feature of federal subsistence management. Each of these councils represents a region of the state. The councils have the authority to develop proposals for regulations, policies, management plans, and other matters relating to subsistence uses of fish and wildlife. The councils hold two or more public meetings every year to gather local information, and make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board on subsistence issues. The board seriously considers council recommendations, and by statute must defer to the recommendations of these councils in making decisions relating to the taking of fish and wildlife in the councils' regions unless she or he determines it is not supported by substantial evidence, violates recognized principles of fish and wildlife conservation or would be detrimental to subsistence needs.

In addition to promulgating subsistence regulations, the Federal Subsistence Board contributes substantially to fisheries knowledge by funding research on the status of fish stocks, subsistence harvest and use patterns, and the collection and analysis of traditional knowledge.


The Department of the Interior thanks the Subcommittee for its interest in this important issue and for its leadership in conserving our nation's natural resources.

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