The state of Alaska recently filed suit to restrain the federal government from closing federal lands in the Nelchina Basin to caribou and moose hunting by non-federally qualified hunters. This action unnecessarily restricts hunting opportunity for many Alaskans who traditionally use this area to harvest moose and caribou to feed their families. It also come at a time when moose numbers in the basin are within population objectives and caribou numbers are above population objectives. That means the populations are good and healthy and there are no conservation concerns.
In taking its action, the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) over-reached its authority under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The FSB took its action to reduce competition for federally qualified hunters on federal lands and to improve public safety. Nothing in ANILCA allows the federal government to close federal lands to reduce hunter conflict, and the facts do not support a decision to close hunting for reasons of public safety.
The closure was also not supported by the Bureau of Land Management, which is the principal federal land management agency in the Nelchina Basin and a voting member of the FSB. Nor was it supported by the Office of Subsistence Management, an advisory group to the FSB. Both entities advised that the closure of federal lands is not necessary for the conservation of healthy populations of either moose or caribou. Additionally, BLM testified that the closure was not necessary for reasons of public safety. The bureau also added that it would be nearly impossible to enforce, given the patchwork of land ownership in the basin. In notifying the public about the closure to non-federally qualified hunters, the Office of Subsistence Management improperly stated that the closure also affects state lands.
Because of these reasons, the state believes that actions of the Federal Subsistence Board represent an unnecessary and unjustified bureaucratic intrusion into state management that is providing for the subsistence needs of both local and non-local Alaskans. And we are asking the court to recognize our authority to manage our state’s resources for the benefit of all Alaskans and within the sideboards of ANILCA.
Subsistence is and remains a priority to the state of Alaska. It is guaranteed under state law. We understand the importance of harvesting wild fish and game to feed our families. We will continue to provide for the subsistence needs of Alaskans. In taking this court action, we are simply ensuring that all Alaskans have an opportunity to feed their families when the resource can support it, as well as following through on our constitutional decree that all Alaskans are equal and are afforded equal rights, opportunities and protection under the law.
Doug Vincent-Lang serves as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
John Moller serves as rural policy advisor to the Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
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