Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
NPS Logo

Chapter 8:

A. Status of the NPS Subsistence Program, 1990-1991

As noted in Chapter 6, a major action of the various NPS subsistence resource commissions during the late 1980s had been the submission of hunting plan recommendations. These recommendations had been submitted, for the most part, in 1986 and 1987, and representatives of the Interior Secretary had responded to those submissions between March and May 1988. Inasmuch as these submissions had comprised the first official exchange between the SRCs and the Interior Secretary's office, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Secretary accepted some recommendations, rejected others, and modified still others. The Secretary's office, it appears in retrospect, applied a strict-constructionist approach in its interpretation of the subsistence regulations.

In general, the submission-and-response process was valuable in an educational sense, because it clarified specifics of regulations whose interpretations had not previously been meted out. In many instances, SRCs tacitly accepted the Interior Secretary's opinions. But regarding a number of issues, SRC members patently disagreed with the Secretary's rulings and vowed to re-submit either the same or similar recommendations all over again. Such was the state of affairs during the waning months of the 1980s.

Little change was in evidence during the first year or two of the 1990s. SRC activity, on the whole, seemed sluggish (see Appendix 5); during 1990, four of the state's seven SRCs did not meet, and one other SRC, from Aniakchak National Monument, met but was unable to muster a quorum. (The Denali SRC, normally active, stayed dormant that year; chair Florence Collins opted out of a proposed October 1990 Commission meeting in order "to keep the Park Service from spending money for a meeting we felt could accomplish little.") [1] The following year, activity picked up considerably—five of the seven SRCs were able to hold a legally-constituted meeting—but between January 1990 and the fall of 1991, few official expressions of opinion emerged from the various SRC meetings. During this period, most of the SRCs mulled over recommendations that the Interior Secretary had rejected back in 1988. [2]

Alaska's NPS superintendents, gathered for a 1991 conference. They included (left to right): Ernest Suazo (BELA), Karen Wade (WRST), Andy Hutchison (LACL), Roger Siglin (GAAR), Alan Eliason (KATM), Ralph Tingey (NWAK), Russ Berry (DENA), Marv Jensen (GLBA), Don Chase (YUCH), Anne Castellina (KEFJ), Clay Alderson (KLGO), and Mickie Hellickson (SITK). NPS (AKSO)

The only official SRC recommendation that found its way to the Interior Secretary's desk during 1990 or 1991 was a proposal that had been finalized years earlier. This proposal, a combined recommendation of the Cape Krusenstern and Kobuk Valley SRCs to combine resident-zone communities within the boundaries of the NANA Regional Corporation, had been readied for submission to the Interior Secretary back in 1986; but for reasons that were discussed in Chapter 6, the proposal had gone into bureaucratic limbo. It resurfaced because of a chance question posed by Walter Sampson, the Kobuk Valley SRC head, at the SRC chairs' meeting in December 1989. Sampson, angry at NPS officials, claimed that the incident "causes me to question the commitment of some of the personnel in your agency" regarding the SRCs; furthermore, it "emphasizes the inadequate support that we have received from NPS personnel over the years." NPS officials, however, tactfully defended their actions. A year later, on March 12, 1991, the proposal was officially submitted to the Interior Secretary. [3]

One reason for the relative paucity of activity—which, in large part, was a continuation of the state of affairs that had existed during the mid- to late 1980s—was the relative lack of staff and budget that the NPS provided for subsistence program management. As noted in chapters 5 and 6, the agency's Alaska Regional Office had hired a full-time Subsistence Coordinator in early 1984, and during 1987-88, the addition of new (if short-term) staff members brought about the establishment of a separate Subsistence Division. Between 1989 and 1991, as noted in Chapter 7, the regional office's subsistence staff swelled from one to six. [4] (See Appendix 3.) At the field level, however, subsistence-related matters continued to be handled as one of many collateral duties of a park's superintendent, management assistant, chief ranger, or resource management specialist.

The lack of staff time that could be devoted to subsistence matters, plus the small ($10,000) budget allotted to each of the SRCs, meant that subsistence concerns maintained a relatively low profile among park priorities. Moreover, few within the agency were in a position to advocate for the needs of park-area subsistence users. This state of affairs caused a state of widespread restiveness among some SRC members; one member later noted that the NPS during this period was "trying to eliminate subsistence as soon as possible," while another charged that "Any component of a hunting plan which is outside the scope of what NPS feels 'could prove detrimental to the satisfaction of subsistence needs of local residents' [is] unilaterally rejected without full consideration." [5] SRC members constructively reacted to the situation by calling for an increase in the SRC budgets, for an increase in the number of yearly meetings, [6] for new opportunities to communicate with other SRCs, [7] and for funding to travel to meetings of the State Game Board, the newly-established Federal Subsistence Board, or other regulatory bodies. [8] But agency officials, in response, typically denied these requests. The frustration level was such that SRC members occasionally resigned their positions with a strongly-worded letter to the agency, while those who remained in their positions sometimes complained about the intransigence and insensitivity of NPS officials, both at the park and regional levels. [9]

As noted above, a troubling undercurrent during this period—and an underlying concern of the subsistence community ever since ANILCA's passage—was that NPS officials were trying to curtail subsistence use in the various Alaska park units. During the 1970s, when Congress considered various Alaska lands questions, both Natives and non-Natives openly worried that subsistence, in the face of technological change and widespread economic development, might be on the verge of extinction. In May 1979, for example, House Interior Committee Chairman Morris Udall noted,

... change is occurring very rapidly in rural Alaska and it seems to me that as rural Alaskan people become more dependent on a cash economy, fewer and fewer will be dependent on subsistence resources and even fewer would qualify under our priority system. [10]

Despite that worry, however, the language contained in ANILCA (as noted in Chapter 4) clearly told rural Alaskans that the federal government would "protect and provide the opportunity for continued subsistence uses on the public lands by Native and non-Native rural residents." Furthermore, the bill's access provisions ensured that subsistence users would continue to "have reasonable access to subsistence resources on the public lands," and that methods of access could legally include "snowmobiles, motorboats, and other means of surface transportation...." [11]

During the years that followed ANILCA, Udall's prediction turned out to be wide of the mark; "living off the land" continued to a viable, sought-after lifestyle choice by some rural-based non-Natives, and for many Natives, keeping a subsistence-based lifestyle became an increasingly important aspect of cultural identification. Subsistence, it was clear, was not going to fade away any time soon. From time to time, however, frustrated SRC members charged that the NPS was trying to hamstring subsistence opportunities, and some subsistence users—mindful of traditional policies in parks outside of Alaska—may have felt that the agency's long-term goal was to eliminate subsistence activities in the parks altogether. Agency officials, in fact, had no such intention, but the NPS's perceived intransigence on various subsistence policy matters implicitly suggested that the agency had little interest in either supporting or encouraging subsistence uses.

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

Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003