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State must work to develop a unified system for subsistence management

I had the recent privilege to serve on Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott's transition team to provide dialog on the issue of subsistence in Alaska.

There were other members including the Outdoor Council (Fairbanks and Southeast), members from Native communities of the Kuskokwim, Copper River, Southeast, and Northwest Alaska. The experience was a very positive one because of the attitude and respect shown by each member's input.

There was a unified consensus that the dual management system was not what most Alaskans want now, nor in the future. All agreed that a unified system must be developed to include the Native tribes as well as the federal and state systems.

How Alaska gets there is the biggest hurdle the new governor and his staff will have to deal with to help provide the means to accomplish this huge task. When you look at the issues, you have to look at Native tribes and their acceptance into the state governmental arena as sovereign governments, the issue of subsistence as a priority (state constitutional amendment), possible changes to Alaska Native Interest Lands Conservation Act or other federal laws, and a great variety of changes in trust and attitude among the people of this great state. This is a very difficult undertaking but we felt it must be done to have a system we can all live with in the future.

As for our area, in Northwest Alaska, things must change. The state fish and game system must improve when dealing with the issues involving caribou hunting, equal access and equal opportunity problems in dealing with aircraft.

The state advisory committee must close all bull caribou hunting during the rutting season by emergency closure or a yearly closure of all bull caribou hunting from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10 to protect the herd while in their mating season. We local residents see hundreds of Cabela's hunters come and go during this period of time. Fish and Game managers, biologists and law enforcement know, just as we local hunters know, that you can't eat the meat during this time. So what happens to all this meat?

I challenge the advisory board members to make the right decision on closing this time period so that the caribou can have the opportunity to mate in peace. When hundreds of bull caribou are shot, it impacts the herd at a very critical time. How can this sustain a healthy crop of caribou for the future?

The state, and federal Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Park Service must begin to regulate the use of aircraft in hunting of caribou and other game. The drop-off hunters and/or outfitters should not have exclusive rights to all the bull caribou.

The equal access and equal opportunity clauses in the state constitution are not being honored when there are no restrictions on use of aircraft for caribou hunting.

The state and federal agencies must begin to use the satellite collaring of caribou to prove how much impact these drop-off hunters and/or outfitters are having on the migration of caribou. What we encounter is that the drop-off hunters and/or outfitters severely impact the food security for our Native hunters.

I challenge the state to begin to deal with this issue. I would like the Noatak, other Native Indian Reorganization Act villages and individual Native hunters to join together in a class action lawsuit against the state and federal agencies to challenge equal access on constitutional grounds, and the inability of the federal agencies to protect subsistence as provided by ANILCA.

It's time for change. If not, we will have nothing to hunt in the near future. It is time that Native people stand up for what is right and give notice that we will not live with the status quo.

Roswell Schaeffer Sr. lives in Kotzebue.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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