Interior and tribes sign agreement on hunting management

By Emily Ronis

A moose cow in Denali National Park. ©Arthur T. LaBar

On Nov. 29, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission (AITRC) signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that elevates AITRC’s role in wildlife management on federal lands in central Alaska. The MOA grants AITRC increased authority over subsistence moose (Alces alces) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) hunting on federal public lands by tribal members under the Federal Subsistence Management Program.

“[A]s Alaska’s population has grown, the Ahtna people have borne the brunt of increasing hunting pressure on their traditional lands because these areas are fairly accessible to much of the Railbelt region, home to 70 percent of Alaska’s population,” Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor explained in a press release.

The agreement is the first of its kind developed under Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s recent directive that calls for increased collaboration between federal entities and tribes when managing public lands near traditional tribal areas. The directive recognizes the value of tribal cultural connections to and knowledge about federal lands and aims to elevate both in federal land management.

AITRC coordinates natural resource management for eight tribes across a 1.5-million-acre area that encompasses parts of national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

Under the MOA, AITRC can set harvest limits, permits, and season dates that will only apply to Native hunters that qualify for subsistence hunting on federal lands; for instance, season dates may be set so that tribal members could begin hunting earlier than non-native hunters. Non-native rural hunters that also qualify for subsistence hunting will continue to follow separate federal subsistence regulations.

The Federal Subsistence Board also agreed to establish an Ahtna advisory committee that will facilitate information sharing and tribal member input into federal subsistence hunting management. Both the DOI and AITRC will also seek additional funding to “sustain the capacity” of  AITRC to develop and implement the permits and programs set forth in the MOA.

Ultimately, DOI and tribal groups are looking to widen existing federal-tribal partnerships to also include state wildlife agencies and ensure rural Alaskans have access to critical subsistence resources.

Emily Ronis is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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