Federal Subsistence Board votes to mend Alaska relations

The Federal Subsistence Board voted Tuesday to work to re-establish better relations with the state of Alaska.

A federal-state memorandum of understanding, or MOU, on subsistence expired last year over differences on data sharing, day-to-day operations, and other issues.

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The agencies that make up the Federal Subsistence Board agreed last year to disagree with the state of Alaska on subsistence management. Federal laws dictate protection of wildlife and preservation of natural conditions and processes in national parks and wildlife refuges. Meanwhile, the Palin and Parnell administrations had embraced an “intensive management” approach that involves manipulating habitat and killing predators to increase harvestable prey.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Geoff Haskett told other board members the time is right to work on a new MOU.

“I think we’re in a different time now than we were a couple of years ago when we weren’t able to have much in the way of constructive discussions with the state on this,” Haskett said. “I think the timings right for us to send a letter from the board requesting the state to begin those discussions anew. And I think the chances for a positive outcome are pretty good right now.”

And, said Daniel Sharp, Subsistence Coordinator for the Alaska Office of the Bureau of Land Management, federal agencies need to iron out differences with the state before they bring tribes into management of fish and game.

“It’s going to be difficult for a co-management scenario to be successful if the feds and state can’t have an MOU to agree,” Sharp said. “If we  we’re not going to do much better to bring in a third party when  the first two parties aren’t necessarily in alignment or agreement, so I think that’s probably the nexus or the  justification for reinvigorating this MOU discussion is there’s also a  looming co-management discussions and we have to have all the parties at the table.”

In other actions, the board directed staff to begin to develop policies and perhaps seek secretarial executive orders to bolster new regulations for deciding which communities fit the “rural” designation that makes subsistence a priority use.

The board also endorsed two dozen fisheries resource monitoring projects totaling $1.8 million, with final grant amounts to be decided by budget allocations.

The board’s endorsements were guided by technical committees of biologists and anthropologists, and regional subsistence advisory councils, or RACs.

Haskett, who’s retiring in a few months, says giving greater weight to the voices of those most affected by decisions is a change he’s seen during his tenure on the board.

“I’m very sad to be leaving the board. I’ve been doing it for 8 years now. It’s gone through a lot of changes. One of the things that’s been really good is – I think our record speaks for itself – about 98% of the time we support what the RAC recommendations are,” Haskett said. “Sometimes the RAC’s don’t always agree so there are some issues there. But we work really, really hard so we’re addressing conservation issues at the same time making sure we support subsistence use out there. So it’s been really an honor to be able to work on this board.”

The board is soliciting applications to serve on regional subsistence councils, with a due date of January 29.