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Rule Changes Restore Rights of Alaska, Citizens and Native Communities

The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (SAF) and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association (APHA) applaud the final publication of the final National Parks Service (NPS) rule that restores Alaska’s authority to manage hunting in the state by repealing a 2015 NPS rule that transferred regulatory authority of hunting and trapping on Alaska National Preserves to NPS.

The final rule change faithfully carries out Department of Interior policies on the books since the Reagan administration, under which each of the 50 States generally manage hunting on the state’s federal lands. The change also puts NPS back in compliance with provisions of the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which entrusted management of wildlife to the state. APHA and SAF have fought long and hard for this result, through their pending lawsuit against the rule change, APHA’s petition to Department of Interior to repeal the rule and countless briefings and discussions with policy makers.

The architects of the 2015 NPS rule change were both clever and strategic in how they manipulated public opinion to disguise the NPS power grab by portraying the 2015 rule change as a federal ban of unpopular hunting practices. They tapped into the general public's apprehension about hunting practices like hunting denning bears, swimming caribou or hunting wolves in late spring, which are traditional methods in Alaska, especially for native populations. They fully understood that the headlines would shape the discourse among a national public unfamiliar with the need to hunt for food to survive in rural Alaska.

Many of the hunting practices the rule changes banned were already prohibited by the state. However, the architects of the rule did not publicize that fact, creating the mis- impression that repealing the rules would legalize practices like poisoning animals. The rule changes targeted other traditional hunting practices, especially denning of bears, which are traditional and cultural hunting practices used by remote native communities to gather food in the winter. They knew that the media and general public would not take the time to map the areas and understand that the state only allowed these hunting practices in remote areas to accommodate culturally and locally appropriate practices.

Trying to pit hunter against hunter, the architects also purported to exempt “subsistence” hunting from the 2015 Rule. This was a false narrative, because much of the ordinary non-subsistence hunting in Alaska is hunting for food, and members of the Alaska native community are only eligible to hunt as subsistence hunters during very specific times.

APHA President Sam Rohrer looks back to 2015 when the NPS passed the now-repealed regulations. “I sat on Kodiak’s local federal subsistence Rural Advisor Committee (RAC) when the 2015 rule was put out for public comment. As a group of rural Alaskans tasked with providing input to the federal land managers, we were taken aback and by the misleading title ’non-subsistence hunting in Alaska.’ In fact, the rural hunting community across the state was put on their heels by the Park Service proposal and, frankly, offended by the Park Service’s overt efforts to conquer hunters by dividing us.”

Trying to play into perceived public opposition to predator control, the architects of the rule changes cleverly empowered NPS to close state hunting seasons involving “predator reduction” by defining it very broadly as any hunting management decision that alters the relationship between predator and prey. By doing so, in effect, ALL hunting seasons for predator or prey could be construed as predator control. 

“Hunting guides are mostly rural residents who have deep ties in villages across Alaska. We understand subsistence and relying on wildlife to provide for our families. When the hunting guides decided to stand up to NPS, we made that decision knowing full well that we had nothing directly to gain from a financial perspective. It became a matter of principle where we had the means to stick up for fellow community members, especially indigenous Alaskans, and we have a deep belief that the promises made at statehood and enshrined in ANILCA need to be kept,” said APHA’s Rohrer. “The NPS disregarded their own rural advisor committees, comments from Alaskan citizens and comments from tribal and village representatives from across the state. APHA said enough is enough, we make promises to our neighbors, as well as government entities, and we hold to them. We expect the same in return.” 

Evan Heusinkveld President and CEO of the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation echoes Rohrer’s sentiments.

“SAF is dedicated to promoting hunting traditions and sound conservation practices across the 50 states. As such, we take on issues in any state, depending on the threat to the hunting or trapping traditions or the wise use of wildlife. I received a call from APHA to consider joining with them to repeal the harmful federal overreach in Alaska. When you look at the magnitude of the public lands in question, it almost was a guarantee that there would be a need for SAF to step up and partner with Alaska and Alaskan hunting groups to hold the federal agencies to their word. Management of hunting and wildlife is a power reserved for the states,” said Heusinkveld.

The rule changes flew in the face of congressional intent, as well as the precedential and statutory right of states to manage wildlife on federal lands within their borders. More than any other state, Alaska has firmly spelled out in state and federal law that hunting plays a strong and important role in the state’s heritage and that the state should control season dates, methods of take and bag limits.

These principles, followed for decades, are enshrined in the Alaska state constitution, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the National Wildlife Administration Act and the Alaska Statehood Act.

If the federal government could usurp management powers of fish and game on millions of acres of public land in Alaska, they could use the precedent to do so on federal land nationwide; politicizing wildlife management and relegating it to the whims of the Oval Office and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

“As SAF looked closer at the real impacts of the rule, it became clear that these changes in management jurisdiction were a threat to hunting nationwide. But even more, this was a targeted attack on hunting practices used to hunt for food, and this was an attack on vulnerable indigenous hunting traditions,” continued Heusinkveld. “Clearly, the state of Alaska was more sensitive to the needs of its people, and its management decisions reflected that. The willingness of the federal managers to seize on urban and media misperceptions, where the most harmed were the most vulnerable, was untenable. SAF had to engage, and we applaud Department of Interior Secretary Bernhardt, U.S. Senators Sullivan and Murkowsi, and Congressman Young for working to restore the right of Alaska to manage fish and game, and for the state’s citizens and native communities to engage in proven scientific management and traditional means of harvesting wildlife.”

After repeal of the 2015 NPS rule, urban Alaskans will once again be able to join with their rural family members in traditional hunting practices. Once again residents from Fairbanks will be able to legally accompany their relatives and selectively take healthy swimming caribou for elders living in remote villages in northwest Alaska. College students will be able to return to their village and legally engage in traditional winter hunting of bears for food. And finally, state managers will be able adjust hunting seasons to open, close, lengthen or shorten hunting seasons for moose, caribou, bears and wolves as promised in the statehood compact. Fair balance has rightfully been restored between that state and federal managers but most importantly, Alaska’s most vulnerable hunting community has been given a voice and reaffirmation that federal promises made will be kept.

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