Keep D.C. politics out of fish and game management - Must Read Alaska
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Keep D.C. politics out of fish and game management

By EDDIE GRASSER

Late in President Obama’s final term, the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) circumvented Congress by effectively revoking the State of Alaska’s long-standing authority to manage game within national preserves and wildlife refuges.

In doing so, rural Alaskans, including those who practice millennia-old harvest strategies to feed their families, found their age-old traditions criminalized.

While the USFWS portions of this overreach were promptly overridden by the next Congress, the federal rule for national preserves required presidential intervention.

Earlier this week, President Trump did just that, by finalizing a new National Park Service rule which restores game management authority in preserves to the State of Alaska.

The midnight regulations from the previous administration represented just one of many assaults by federal bureaucrats seeking to erode Alaska’s self-governance.

In this case, federal authorities justified their overreach by claiming they were acting to protect Alaska’s ecosystem from the State’s attempts to manage big-game populations.

As we noted in our 2018 response, this is a work of fiction. The practice of “denning,” which Alaska Natives have used for thousands of years to feed their families during the harsh winter months, is unrelated to population control efforts.

After the Board of Game recognized this practice in 2008 for the express purpose of respecting long-standing cultural traditions, black bear harvests decreased to less than 10 animals per year in the Denali National Preserve. Similar results were observed in other bear populations. 

The State of Alaska has always sought to maintain sustainable predator population densities that match local ecosystems. As we carefully documented, any harvest increases as a result of traditional practices were not expected to have any impact on sustainable wolf, bear, or prey population densities.

In stark contrast, the federal government provided no scientific data or analysis to support their dubious claims. They even neglected to scientifically define the “natural” population densities they allegedly sought.

Worse, supporters of this overreach have waged a public opinion battle that is seemingly intended to vilify Alaska Natives’ heritage. Of the nearly 300,000 public comments received on both the original rule and the recent reversion, nearly a quarter million were form letters. Out-of-state groups like the National Resource Defense Council, whose president earns over $500,000 a year, fundraised off outrageous statements about donuts, orphaned cubs, and “gassed” wolf dens.

Members of Congress joined in by accusing Alaskans of supporting the “Puppy Killing Act,” and comparing traditional hunters to barbarians. One representative claimed Alaskans desperately want to shoot animals from helicopters, suggesting we should instead go play “video games.”

“I hear virtual reality headsets these days make it just like the real thing,” she joked as she spoke on the House floor.

If they were to set aside their vitriol, they would discover that traditional hunts like those conducted by the Koyukon Athabascan often involve traveling to 100 dens to locate a small number of harvestable bears. Dens with bear cubs are avoided whenever possible.

Other outrageous claims like the “gassing” of wolves or shooting animals from helicopters for sport are quickly dispelled by reading Alaska’s wildlife management regulations which expressly prohibit these activities.

Clearly these arguments are red herrings, meant to drum up support for a decades-long campaign to transfer state authority to Washington, D.C. The tragedy is that no state or federal authority is better equipped to sustainably manage natural resources than Alaska. 

Since statehood, we have consistently shown the world that resource management and conservation go hand in hand. In the early 1900s, unregulated fishing resulted in the routine over-harvesting of salmon throughout the Lower 48’s Pacific coastline.

Mere decades later, pollution and infrastructure projects, devoid of conservation considerations, compounded this tragedy. Perhaps the worst example is the mighty Columbia River which sees only three percent of the salmon it once supported.

Meanwhile, 207 million salmon were sustainably harvested in Alaskan waters last year. Despite challenging ocean conditions, that amount has increased by 70 million fish in the past 20 years. Likewise, our wildlife continues to flourish. The Fortymile Caribou Herd recently exceeded 80,000 animals – numbers not seen since the 1920s.

Alaska’s success is no coincidence. It’s a collaborative effort between our wildlife scientists, conservationists, hunters, and subsistence communities. In fact, many Alaskans would consider themselves members of multiple categories. Just last week, our department received a $100,000 check from hunters and conservationists working together to conserve Dall Sheep populations in Alaska.

The bottom line is that when Alaskans are free to manage our fish and game using the proven principles enshrined our state constitution, our wildlife flourishes and all Americans reap the benefits. Let’s respect the law and keep D.C. politics out of the Last Frontier.

Eddie Grasser is the director of Wildlife Conservation for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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  • Excellent!! Thank you Eddie

  • Excellent article, less government regulation results in wiser resource management, applicable at the local level, where the reality is observed and documented!

  • Amen! Alaska Dept. of fish and Game has done good work over the years.

  • You leave the door wide open for legislation and bad parties to manipulate iron a local level. Do you really want Cathy telling you what to do?

  • Monsieur Grassier, I do not disagree with all that you say, but what you avoid discussing is of far more importance to Alaskans; and time may be short. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act extinguished all aboriginal rights (words in the Act) in return for $1 billion and 44 million acres of fee simple, but nontaxable, land given to all Alaska Natives, living in Alaska or not. CEOs of those ANCSA entities now make as much as $5 million in annual salaries (a good trade, non?). Nine years later Carter comes along with ANILCA, and because of the aforementioned wording in ANCSA the concept of “rural” subsistence rights was invented but not clarified. Management was awarded to a committee of federal agencies, who delegated decisions to an ever-changing group of porch monkeys. So we have people living remotely on say Shelter Island not qualifying for subsistence, because the island is in the Juneau Borough, but people living nearby in Funter Bay, not in the Juneau Borough, can hunt deer on Shelter for subsistence – different bag limits, longer season, etc. (Neither community is native or Native by the way.) And people living in Saxman and therefore within easy walking distance (on paved roads) to a Ketchikan Big Mac qualify for subsistence whereas people living across Tongass Narrows, in the same borough as Saxman, do not. This ADF&G Commissioner and this White House can fix this right now! The law and the intent of the law are plain as day, but we lack the courage to request honest decisions. All Alaskans are disadvantaged by this mess to a far, far greater degree than is the case with anything you mention here today in MRAK. Eddie, please fix this. This Governor and this President will support you, and the law is with you.

  • Thanks to the MRA for putting this piece up….good news like this should always be headlined …

  • Question to the readers: When is the “citizen use” used in terms of percentage on the “taking” of actual game and fish. Subsistence is far below what it should be when compared to the Obama era and the present day taking and use. The game needs actual figures per game type. The fish needs actual figures per agreement in the processing. Alaskans have far less than what they see in this report. Fish in this report does not break down to Alaskan use but whole numbers that processors are using. The Alaskans may take by subsistence but the fish on the shelf in the stores is well below the 20% by agreement. Why do the Alaskans get 20% of processed fish? What is the game count for Alaskans. We need to see those numbers to look at reality. Not just this report.

  • Commercial fishing permits for Alaskan residents only.

  • The next (heaven forbid) Democrat president will be coming after Alaska with a vengeance.

  • I’m more in favor of keeping the State of Alaska out of fish and game management. The Feds came in not because they were looking to jerk Alaska around, but because the ADFG was resorting to predator control “methods” that have been anathema for the rest of the civilized world (well, most of it) for the last hundred years.
    ADFG got to the point where it considered grizzlies, wolves, and black bears to be vermin. These are apex predators, for sure, but managing them like vermin was because the ADFG was in the pockets of hunters who were complaining that they didn’t get their moose or caribou every year.
    Admittedly, the whole subsistance issue is complex and wrought with conflict, but that doesn’t mean you throw the management issue baby out with the bath water. ADFG just said “Screw it, we’ll do what the hunters want.”

  • Does anyone know of any other large game animal that the Feds manage anywhere in the US?
    .
    It’s good to see this over reach by the previous administration put where it belongs, in the dustbin of history.

    • Well, there’s grey wolves, and Florida panthers, and grizzlies, and probably wolverines, if any are left in the lower 48 (how large do you want to go?), and Bald Eagles, and Golden Eagles. Turns out, locals can’t be trusted when it comes to $$$ or whether they can get their deer or not.

      • The Feds do not manage large game animals in any state, they do protect certain species but the States manage their game animals. Birds of prey are certainly not classified as large game animals and they cannot be hunted legally in any state.
        .
        Turns out locals across the nation can and are trusted when it comes to $$$ and whether they can get their deer or not…and have done so for generations.

        • Yeah, right. Show me the data.
          If an animal is federally protected, the state cannot manage it as a game animal unless it is allowed by federal law. If this were not the case, we probably would have no bald or golden eagles in the lower 48, or grizzlies, or grey wolves. Or buffalo. Bison. And right now. several western states are trying to change that.
          Locals can only be trusted if they are held in check, which usually means keeping them from looking only at their pay-check. That seems to apply to game, non-game, natural resources of any kind, and shagging other men’s wives. Unfortunately, we all can be bought, and Alaskans seem to be willing to be bought fairly cheaply (see Big Oil).

          • Show you the data? It’s common knowledge that large game isn’t managed by the Feds but managed by the States. Protection isn’t management, it’s by definition lack of management, that way the species can recover. Birds of prey aren’t large game species. Look it up Greg, it’s common knowledge.
            .
            The rest of your rant isn’t even worth addressing.

  • I’ve seen ducks and geese harvested by boats under power. I’ve seen wolves run down by snowgos and shot. The same with bears moose and caribou. Game laws aren’t being followed in the Bush by anyone, especially Natives.

  • Here is an excerpt from a story running on Public Broadcasting (Socialist Radio, KTOO, Juneau) right now (June 19). Tribal governments have been asking for special hunting seasons, and in this case the United States Forest Service thinks it has the authority to open moose and deer season for Kake tribal members. Here’s the excerpt:

    A U.S. Forest Service ranger district in Petersburg was delegated the authority on June 2 to grant emergency hunting actions for rural subsistence residents — like Kake. That negates some of the bureaucratic rigmarole, and it’s happening in other parts of Alaska, too. Still, there are certain caveats for final approval. One of them is that a state entity has to confirm the need.

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