AFN co-chair named chairman of Federal Subsistence Board

Kyle Hopkins

Alaska Federation of Natives co-chair Tim Towarak of Unalakleet has been named chairman of the Federal Subsistence Board in Alaska.

The announcement Tuesday from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack comes as the feds say they are looking to "revitalize" the way they manage subsistence hunting and fishing in the state.

Salazar said at last fall's Alaska Federation of Natives convention that the feds would launch a sweeping review of subsistence management. The existing system is "broken," he said at the time.

The Interior Department recently completed that review.

Among the proposed changes is a call to add two rural Alaskans to the subsistence board -- an effort to allow feedback from more corners of the state during the decision-making process.

The review also recommends the board play a greater role in hiring and evaluating the director of the Office of Subsistence Management. The review does not recommend any changes to federal law, according to the announcement.

No other state has a federal subsistence board. Regulating hunting and fishing rights in Alaska is a touchy, controversial job as officials must meet legal obligations and placate opposing interest groups.

There's also a complicated, overlapping regulatory system: The state makes hunting and fishing rules across Alaska, but the feds regulate subsistence on federal lands.

In contrast to the Alaska Constitution, a 1980 federal law guarantees rural Alaskans priority when it comes to subsistence. Some Alaska Native leaders say the federal government hasn't done enough to protect that right.

"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," Salazar said in a written statement, forwarded by the White House.

Besides his AFN role, Towarak is president of Bering Straits Native Corp. of Nome. He replaces Mike Fleagle, a former state Game Board chairman who was appointed to the subsistence board in 2006 by the former Bush administration.

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