Rural Alaska

Federal judge overrules state attempt to block special hunt granted to Southeast Alaska tribe

JUNEAU - A judge has ruled that the federal government was correct in allowing a Southeast Alaska tribe to organize an out-of-season hunt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration sued to block future hunts, arguing that permitting a special moose and deer hunt this summer was overreach by federal authorities, CoastAlaska reported Monday.

District Court Judge Sharon Gleason denied a preliminary injunction that would have prevented special hunts in the future.

The Organized Village of Kake petitioned the Federal Subsistence Board for permission to hunt five deer and two moose out of season and distribute the meat within the community.

The federally recognized tribe on Kupreanof Island, south of Juneau, said it was alarmed by the low supply and high price of fresh meat that followed the outbreak of COVID-19.

The hunt was approved in June, but Alaska filed a lawsuit alleging federal officials illegally preempted the state’s rights to manage wildlife.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Cheryl Brooking said there are narrow reasons for federal jurisdiction to supersede state management.


“When Alaska became a state, one of the main drivers of statehood was to get control over fish and game management because the feds were making a mess of it,” Brooking said. “But since statehood, the state has been the manager of fish and game.”

Brooking argued in court filings that the food security issue was never proven and that the federal government exceeded its authority.

Gleason’s ruling last week said federal officials took conservation and public safety concerns into account when they reached the decision to allow the hunt.

State wildlife managers also did not respond when federal officials reached out to them, Gleason wrote.

The lawsuit will proceed as both sides file arguments ahead of a final ruling.

Kake Tribal President Joel Jackson said Alaska Natives never voluntarily ceded hunting and fishing rights on their traditional homelands and that he considers the matter an issue of tribal sovereignty.

“Of course, if we’re in a real bad situation, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a hunting party together, go out and get what we need,” Jackson said. “But I want to stay within the law.”