Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
NPS Logo

Chapter 5:

On December 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation that established seventeen national monuments covering some 55,965,000 acres of Alaska land. The NPS that day was put in charge of thirteen monuments; the other four were to be administered by either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Forest Service. Of the ten new monuments and three expanded monuments placed under NPS stewardship, the proclamation decreed that "the opportunity for the local residents to engage in subsistence hunting ... will continue under the administration of this monument" in every case, except in the new Kenai Fjords National Monument. With a flourish of his pen, therefore, President Carter legitimized subsistence activities on some 40,210,000 acres of newly proclaimed NPS-managed land. [1]

A. Establishing a Regulatory Framework

Michael Finley
In 1979, and again in 1981, Michael Finley helped craft regulations (primarily related to subsistence) for Alaska's new NPS units. Finley later served as the superintendent for both Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. NPS (AKSO)

As was noted in Chapter 4, the NPS and other land management agencies had known since mid-October 1978 that Congress would not be able to produce an Alaska lands bill prior to the December 17 deadline, and since mid-November there had been some inkling that the president would be issuing a proclamation to protect those lands until such time as Congress was able to act. Immediately after President Carter issued his December 1 proclamation, Interior Department officials recognized that the state could not enforce a ban on hunting in the new monuments and the Department could not enforce the proclamation's other provisions. The department, therefore, assembled a three-person, Washington-based team—Molly N. Ross and Thomas R. Lundquist from the DOI's Office of the Solicitor, and Michael V. Finley from the NPS's Division of Ranger Activities and Protection—that began assembling management regulations for the new monuments. The process of compiling and approving the new management regulations would take several months; in the meantime, established NPS management regulations prevailed in all of the newly-designated monuments. [2]

The team quickly recognized that the new Alaskan monuments were distinct from other national monuments because of various subsistence and access provisions contained in the president's proclamation. In order to legitimize those activities, which were technically illegal under existing management regulations, and to calm the fears of many rural Alaskans, both the NPS and the Fish and Wildlife Service issued final interim rules on December 26—effective immediately—allowing relaxed subsistence and access provisions. [3] In an Interior Department directive published in the January 15, 1979 Congressional Record, Secretary Andrus noted that the regulations were "aimed at giving short term guidance on issues such as subsistence and access on the new monuments." They were issued, he noted, "in order to modify existing NPS regulations which may have barred, among other things, subsistence activities by local rural residents and in-holders, and routes and methods of access to areas within and across the new national monuments." The temporary regulations specifically stated that the new monuments would be open to subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping, and also allowed the use of airplanes for subsistence purposes. Regarding commercial trapping, NPS official Robert Peterson determined—inasmuch as the 1978-79 trapping season was already underway—that the activity would be allowed for the remainder of the season. [4]

Meanwhile, two team members (Molly Ross and Michael Finley) continued their work, often meeting with—and paying close attention to—the core subsistence group in the NPS's Anchorage office. On February 28, 1979, the NPS published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register. From that date until April 6, the agency solicited public comments regarding how the new national monuments should be managed. Comments were solicited in the following subject areas: aircraft access; unattended and abandoned property; firearms, traps, and nets; illegal cabins; firewood; pets (i.e., dog teams); subsistence; hunting and trapping; and mining. The public reacted to the comment period by submitting 1,979 letters, all but 248 of which were form letters from the Alaska Outdoor Association. Ross and Finley spent the next several months sifting through the comments; the document that emerged from their analysis was signed by Robert L. Herpst, the Interior Department's Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and was published as a twenty-page proposed rule in the June 28, 1979 Federal Register. [5] For the next ninety days, the public was invited to submit comments on the general management regulations. The NPS, hoping to elicit the broadest possible response, held well-advertised public hearings in both Anchorage and Fairbanks in mid-August; in addition, "informal public meetings were held in virtually every community affected by the proposed rules." [6] The agency received a total of 245 public comments by the September 26 deadline, and it was anticipated that a final rule would be issued on November 1. But in a surprise move, Interior Department officials took no further action in the matter. They perhaps reasoned that the Final Interim Rule that had become effective on December 26, 1978 was sufficient for administering the newly-established monument lands for the time being, but they also recognized—or perhaps hoped—that Congress would soon pass an Alaska lands bill, which would demand the preparation of a new set of management regulations. [7] Therefore, the public comments that were submitted during the summer of 1979 were held in reserve awaiting a more permanent outcome from Congress.

The regulations outlined in the proposed rule covered a broad range of topics, and they played a central role in how subsistence activities would be managed, both in the immediate and long-term future. The regulations, for example, made the first statements about how the NPS would regulate aircraft use; they stated that fixed-wing aircraft would be allowed, although park superintendents had the ability to ban their entry on either a temporary or permanent basis under certain specified circumstances. Regarding cabin use, those who used cabins on NPS land could continue that use, at least for the time being; those who used cabins built before March 25, 1974 could obtain a renewable five-year permit, while cabins built after that date were eligible for only a non-renewable, one-year permit. [8] Regarding weapons, the regulations distinguished between recreational users, who could carry only firearms, and local rural residents authorized to engage in subsistence uses who "would be permitted to use, possess and carry weapons, traps and nets in accordance with applicable State and Federal law." Motorboat use would be generally permitted, except in various small lakes in Lake Clark National Monument; off-road vehicles would be restricted to "established roads and parking areas;" and snowmobiles "would be permitted only in specific areas or on specific routes." In all three cases, park superintendents would have the power to restrict access on either a temporary or permanent basis. [9]

A major discussion point in the formulation of the 1979 regulations centered on where, and to what extent, aircraft would be allowed for subsistence uses. Paul Starr photo

The topic of subsistence, officials readily agreed, "was perhaps the most divisive of all the issues submitted for comment." Members of the Alaska Outdoor Association submitted 1,731 form letters opposing any subsistence program that did not allow all Alaskans to share equally in the state's fish and wildlife resources. Urban Alaskans generally favored state control and rural Alaskans favored federal control. [10] The NPS, however, proposed "a hybrid State/Federal structure as suggested by the comments from the major environmental organizations, the AFN, and several other commentors." At the time, differing subsistence management schemes were being proposed in the various "d-2" bills on Capitol Hill, and the Service "selected and combined the features which it believes best accommodate the management needs of the new Alaska National Monuments." [11]

The subsistence section of the proposed rule broke new ground by defining "local rural residents" and by proposing that eligibility should be based either on residence in a so-called residence zone or on the possession of a designated subsistence permit. The regulations specified that there would be 39 designated "resident zone communities." [12] (See Table 5-1, following page.) In addition, Section 13.43 of the regulations provided specific criteria under which residents who lived outside those communities could qualify for subsistence permits. A special provision for Gates of the Arctic National Monument allowed Anaktuvuk Pass residents to use aircraft, under certain circumstances, to conduct subsistence activities; another, for Lake Clark National Monument, prohibited the subsistence hunting of Dall sheep. [13]

Table 5-1. Resident Zone Communities for Alaska National Parks and Monuments, 1979-1981

Aniakchak N.M.:
     1979 = Chignik
     Chignik Lagoon
A1981 = Chignik Lake
     Port Heiden

Bering Land Bridge N.M.:
     1979 = Buckland
1981 = none

Cape Krusenstern N.M.:
1979 = Kivalina

Denali N.M./N.P.:
1979 = Minchumina
A1981 = Cantwell

Gates of the Arctic N.M./N.P.:
1979 = Alatna
     Anaktuvuk Pass
     Bettles (+Evansville 1981)
A1981 = Hughes

Katmai N.M.:
1979 = Egegik
1981 = none

Kobuk Valley N.M./N.P.:
1979 = Ambler
A1981 = Kotzebue

Lake Clark N.M./N.P.:
1979 = Nondalton
     Port Alsworth
A1981 = Iliamna
     Lime Village
     Pedro Bay

Wrangell-St. Elias N.M./N.P.:
1979 = Chistochina
     Copper Center
     Mentasta Lake
A1981 = Chisana
     Gakona Junction
     Kenny Lake
     Lower Tonsina

Yukon Charley N.M.:
1979 = Circle
     Eagle Village
1981 = none

Note: A = added

During the seven-month period in which the proposed management regulations were being formulated and subject to public comment, NPS officials attempted to establish a management structure that would complement the vast new acreage that the president and Congress were in the process of bestowing. For more than a decade prior to the December 1978 presidential proclamations, the NPS had supported a central-office presence in Alaska; it had been variously known as the Alaska Field Office, the Alaska Group Office, the Alaska State Office and, most recently, the Alaska Area Office. When Alaska Area Office Director G. Bryan Harry, in September 1978, transferred to Honolulu to become director of the NPS's Pacific Area Office, NPS Director William Whalen let it be known that his replacement, whoever it might be, would serve as an ad hoc regional director. John E. Cook, whom Whalen picked for the job that month, was a third-generation NPS employee who had previously served as both an Associate Director in Washington as well as the Southwest Regional Office director. Whalen picked him, in large part, because he "has had more experience setting up new park system areas than anyone I know. ... The actions we take and do not take in Alaska now will set the tone for our work there for decades to come." Cook, for his part, was equally excited about the challenge, averring that it was "too good an opportunity to pass up." Well before he assumed his position in March 1979, Cook made it clear that he would report directly to Whalen. Cook would serve as Area Director in name only; in due time, he would become the agency's first regional director for Alaska. [14]

Throughout much of 1979, both before and after the proposed rule was issued, the NPS had virtually no ability to administer the many bureaucratic functions that might have logically followed from President Carter's proclamations. Because Congress had played no role in establishing the various monuments, and because the agency had little advance notice of their establishment, the NPS in large part was forced to administer the new monuments using existing resources. The agency knew full well that many Alaska residents were openly hostile to the establishment of new national parklands, and a large-scale protest near Cantwell and more small-scale protests in communities surrounding Wrangell-St. Elias and Yukon Charley Rivers national monuments were obvious manifestations of that hostility. [15] Those attitudes clearly indicated that the agency should take a cautious, incremental approach toward its newly acquired lands, and considering the budgetary situation, the NPS had few other options. The agency estimated that the management of the monuments during Fiscal Year 1979 would cost between $3.5 million and $5.2 million. Personnel ceilings and budget constraints, however, prevented the agency from assigning new people to the monuments or acquiring management facilities, and its request to reprogram existing funds for the purpose was denied. [16]

Despite a general lack of funds, Alaska Area Director John Cook realized that specific situations—the hunting season, for example—demanded an NPS presence, and he felt that the agency should pursue an "aggressive, selective enforcement of sport hunting" in the newly-designated monuments. In the summer of 1979, therefore, he recruited and organized a 22-person team, all of them on loan from other NPS regions. By August 1 the so-called "Ranger Task Force" was on duty in Anchorage, and team members remained in various Alaska-based positions until the hunting season began to taper off. During the winter of 1979-80 the NPS again had a minimal presence in the new monuments; Cook was, however, able to hire three permanent, full-time rangers whose sole responsibilities would be managing the new monuments. [17] Staffing remained largely absent until the late summer of 1980, when the agency deployed a smaller group, informally known as the "Ranger II Task Force." The 1979 and 1980 task force rangers had a wide variety of responsibilities: patrolling huge areas, answering hundreds of questions about the monuments, searching for downed aircraft, and issuing citations (when necessary) for illegal hunting. [18] Most of their hunting-related work involved sport hunting. Subsistence conflicts doubtless surfaced from time to time, but rangers issued no citations during this period for violations of subsistence regulations.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003