Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

B. NPS Subsistence Program Changes, 1991-1993

The McDowell court decision of December 1989, as noted in Chapter 7, had a profound, dramatic effect on how subsistence management activities throughout Alaska, and to a large extent, the changes that the McDowell decision wrought inevitably began to affect the process by which the National Park Service administered subsistence activities on its parklands. The most obvious result of McDowell took place on July 1, 1990, when federal officials assumed responsibility for overseeing subsistence activities on the three-fifths of Alaska's land mass that was administered by various federal land management agencies. The State of Alaska, as has been stated, vociferously opposed this action and attempted, through various means, to regain management authority. Alaska's three-man Congressional delegation, for its part, also preferred a unified system of state management rather than a strong federal management role. The delegation, however, recognized that the federal government, at least in the interim, needed a secure funding base for its management efforts. To that end, therefore, Senator Ted Stevens earmarked $11.3 million in Fiscal Year 1991 appropriations "to fund the management of subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands." Much of that funding allotment was funneled to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was the lead agency administering the federal government's subsistence program; portions of it, however, were distributed to the National Park Service and other federal land management agencies. [12]

As noted above, some of the NPS's budgetary allotment was directed to the Alaska Regional Office, and the agency was able to hire three new Subsistence Division personnel in 1991. But parks were the primary recipients of the NPS's allotment. [13] By November 1990, at least one Alaska park superintendent had told his SRC that federal assumption would result in new subsistence staff, and by March 1991, other park units had received word that new Subsistence Specialists would be joining the ranks. [14] (See Appendix 3.) But subsistence staff was not the parks' only priority, so when Lou Waller, in conjunction with other regional officials, decided to allot funds to each park unit in which subsistence activities took place, superintendents reacted in a variety of ways. Some, as suggested above, hired new individuals to manage park subsistence activities, but at other parks, existing staff—chief rangers, management assistants, or cultural resource specialists—readjusted their duties to accommodate subsistence-related concerns and spent the bulk of the new subsistence funds on equipment or other priorities. [15] Subsistence funds, moreover, were gradually phased in; the first subsistence coordinators were hired during the summer of 1991, but some hiring and other subsistence-related expenditures did not take place until the following year. By mid-1992, each park had designated an employee to oversee subsistence-related concerns. [16]

A primary aspect of the subsistence coordinators' job was to provide a local contact for the implementation of subsistence policies and regulations. In that capacity, the coordinators organized and helped conduct SRC meetings, approved various subsistence-related permits, and discussed subsistence problems with both park staff and subsistence users. The interpersonal nature of those interactions, and the fact that the agency, at long last, had personnel in place who could focus on subsistence concerns, inevitably meant that the agency's policies could be described and explained more effectively to users than was previously the case. Subsistence users, however, also benefited; NPS representatives, having more time to listen to users, began to more fully understand their lives, their subsistence patterns, and their concerns with federal policies. In a number of cases, subsistence coordinators—several of whom had lived in rural Alaska prior to assuming their jobs—empathized with the users' concerns. They also came to recognize, all too often, that users had legitimate grievances against the agency's interpretation of various subsistence regulations, and as a result, they took an advocacy role with park and regional officials in an attempt to modify the agency's stance. [17] Not surprisingly, NPS employees who were primarily or exclusively involved with subsistence matters were more likely to empathize with the plight of subsistence users than those to whom subsistence duties were a tangential part of their job.

Perhaps the first evidence of this empathy was manifested not long after the first subsistence coordinators began working at the parks. As noted above, several SRCs spent time during 1990 and 1991 mulling over how to react to the Interior Secretary's responses to their initial hunting plan recommendations, and in late 1991, they began sending revised recommendations back to Secretary Lujan. The Wrangell-St. Elias SRC sent him two recommendations in December 1991; its action was followed three months later by a similar letter from the Gates of the Arctic SRC, which made three recommendations. Both of the SRC letters contained at least one recommendation that was similar if not identical to those that had been rejected in 1988.

Roger Siglin
Roger Siglin, who served as Gates of the Arctic's superintendent from 1986 to 1993, occasionally clashed with regional officials on subsistence-related issues. NPS (AKSO)

Recognizing that part of the SRCs' ire toward the government was based on its lackadaisical response to their hunting plan recommendation, the Interior Secretary began to formulate a response to both letters soon after they arrived in Washington. Regarding the Wrangell-St. Elias letter, there was apparently little controversy over what the Interior Secretary should say; steering a cautious course, the Secretary's office urged further study for both of the issues that the SRC had raised. [18] But in regard to the Gates of the Arctic SRC's recommendations, a diversity of opinion emerged. In his initial overview of the SRC's letter, park superintendent Roger Siglin unequivocally stated that all three SRC recommendations—related to resident zones, access, and traditional use zones [19] — were "reasonable and within the purview of the commission." Siglin stopped short of wholeheartedly endorsing the three recommendations—he was cautious in his support for the first two and remained neutral on the third—but he did not reject any of them out of hand. [20]

Shortly after he sent the letter, however, several members of the region's Subsistence Division met with park staff in Fairbanks. Siglin, in response, penned a revised letter. He thanked Division personnel for "clarifying the appropriate format, timing, and content for these comments now and in the future;" he did, however, "feel strongly that park staff perspective ... is a necessary element if background is required for Secretarial analysis and response." Siglin reiterated that each of the SRC's recommendations were "reasonable and within the purview of the commission," but perhaps at the region's insistence, numerous clarifying comments were added to each discussion item. [21] The recommendations were then forwarded to Washington, where they were reviewed by Deputy Undersecretary Vernon R. Wiggins and other Interior Department officials. As a result of that review, the Secretary's office stated that the first recommendation was "consistent with Congress' intent to protect opportunities for subsistence users," and it further stated that "the NPS has drafted a proposed regulation" that would have implemented that recommendation. But the Secretary, taking the same protective stance that it had in 1988, rejected the SRC's other two recommendations. "Congress," the letter stated, "intended that NPS management relative to subsistence is to maintain traditional NPS management values," and the Secretary apparently felt that the SRC's two recommendations ran contrary to those "traditional ... values." [22]

During the same period in which the Secretary was considering Gates' SRC recommendations, the region's Subsistence Division staff was producing the first of several subsistence issue papers. By December 1992, two such papers—dealing with ORV/ATV use and the construction of structures in park areas—had been completed in draft form and circulated to the various subsistence superintendents. These thematic papers were an attempt to simplify the complexity of concerns surrounding various subsistence issues; each began with a reiteration of the 1981 regulations and pertinent language from the Congressional Record, to which were added opinions and interpretations previously expressed by Washington-based Interior personnel as well as regional NPS officials. No attempt was made to forge new policy; instead, these papers provided the opportunity to express existing policy in the simplest possible terms. [23]

Gates of the Arctic Superintendent Roger Siglin reacted strongly to both the substance and the implications of the two draft issue papers. In a December 1992 letter to regional Subsistence Division head Lou Waller, Siglin declared that "a piece meal policy-setting approach without the benefits of a coherent regional subsistence policy built on reasoned debate and consensus is premature at this time." He complained that

there is still a general tendency for managers to react to consumptive subsistence activities as an adverse use within these vast park system units. This tendency has been widespread and debilitating with respect to the process of seeking creative management solutions to these critical issues. We have made very little progress [in this area] since the passage of ANILCA.

Siglin also decried the "years of restrained funding" in the subsistence arena, and he vowed that "We must be in this for the long haul and reject simplistic or shortsighted solutions that unnecessarily restrict the options of future managers." Siglin, by this time, knew that regional subsistence head Lou Waller had organized a brief Subsistence Workshop, which was to be held in January 1993. Perhaps in anticipation of that upcoming event, he requested "that superintendents and subsistence managers from the parks have the opportunity to discuss these critical regulatory position statements as well as other concerns as a group." [24]

John Moorehead
John M. (Jack) Morehead served as the Regional Director for Alaska's NPS units from 1991 to 1994. NPS (AKSO)

Other superintendents shared Siglin's concerns. [25] The tone of the various draft issue papers, combined with the Interior Secretary's narrowly-focused response to the Wrangell-St. Elias and Gates of the Arctic recommendations and the restrictive way in which regional subsistence officials were handling the Wrangell-St. Elias resident zone boundary issue, made park personnel feel increasingly empathetic toward subsistence users. Indeed, several superintendents were convinced that if the present regime continued, subsistence activities would begin to decline, and there was a vague perception that, given a continuation of existing policies, subsistence might well be regulated out of the parks. [26] Moreover, a perceived gap between how field personnel and regional personnel were interpreting subsistence regulations suggested that a reassessment of subsistence management policies was in order. Inasmuch as Regional Director John M. Morehead was himself a strong advocate for the rights of subsistence users, he readily agreed to a request from various superintendents that the January subsistence workshop be scuttled in favor of an extended conference that would allow a broad discussion of subsistence matters. As noted in one of Gates of the Arctic SRC's newsletters, the week of March 22-26, 1993 would be spent

thoroughly evaluating the statewide subsistence management program. The Regional Director and staff will meet with Superintendents and staff ... in a variety of sessions designed to identify problem areas within the programs and develop solutions. The Alaska Regional Director will make the final decision regarding the general agency philosophy toward subsistence in the parks, the appropriate balance between field areas and the Anchorage office in staffing and funds, and just how policies will be developed in the future. [27]

The conference, held in Anchorage, took place much as had been planned. [28] A variety of officials—superintendents and subsistence coordinators, regional managers, a Solicitor's Office representative and a cultural resource expert—shared ideas on philosophy, problem areas and possible solutions. As Lake Clark superintendent Ralph Tingey noted, "A major benefit of this conference is that it finally focuses all managers on a single important issue." The tone of the meeting was set by retired NPS historian William E. Brown, who gave the first oration. Many who attended the conference were stirred by both the power of his verbiage and his iconoclasm, and the daring tone he set as the conference's self-described "point man" may well have allowed other attendees to pursue similarly independent policy positions. [29]

One of the most-discussed problem areas was the degree to which parks should be involved in the subsistence decisionmaking process. Siglin, the first superintendent to speak, stated that frustration levels in the parks were high and that parks wanted more of a direct role in the decision making process; Karen Wade, from Wrangell-St. Elias, said that the agency needed a decentralized and localized approach to subsistence management; and Deputy Regional Director Paul Anderson advocated an approach that encouraged greater involvement of front-line employees. Bob Gerhard, from the Northwest Areas Office, also appeared to be arguing for a change in the decision making structure when he posed the rhetorical question, "Is subsistence here to stay or are we going to try to nitpick it apart and have it go away?" But others appeared to disagree with these viewpoints. Marvin Jensen, from Glacier Bay, argued for a more unified approach to subsistence and more teamwork with the regional office, and Joe Fowler from Lake Clark also bemoaned that there was a lack of consistency in how the agency dealt with subsistence. Chris Bockmon, from the Solicitor's office, concluded that the various laws and regulations under which the NPS operated argued for a unified approach to subsistence management. "Management must be more consistent than divergent in approach," he added. Regional subsistence chief Lou Waller, trying to steer a path midway between these viewpoints, said that subsistence management latitude was analogous to a "broad road with white outer markers. It is possible to maneuver within the lines, but we must avoid going over them and totally off the route intended by Congress." ("Management of ... the Alaska national parks," Waller said later, "should not be management by popularity.") Cary Brown, from Yukon-Charley Rivers, also appeared to espouse portions of both viewpoints when he averred that the agency needed a "system that allowed for local determinations with consistency between parks." [30]

Beyond that central question, participants presented a broad array of subsistence-related problems. One of the few commonly-held problem areas lay in education and training; several NPS field personnel readily admitted their ignorance regarding subsistence matters, and in addition, field staff repeatedly mentioned that SRC members needed periodic training. Finally, those who were involved in subsistence admitted to a general lack of direction; in order to gain a renewed orientation, therefore, the assembled participants completed a draft policy statement for the regional subsistence program. For the next four years, that draft document remained the region's best statement of subsistence policy direction. [31]

Perhaps because the conference was the first time in which such a diversity of decision-makers had met on the topic, few new policy directions were established. [32] Even so, the conference was widely perceived as being successful. At a mid-April meeting of the Gates of the Arctic SRC, for example, Superintendent Siglin felt that

changes will be seen as a result of that conference. One is that subsistence is a legitimate use of park resources, strongly endorsed by Morehead. Also he expects stronger general support for SRCs. ... SRC members [however] must also respect the constraints that laws put on subsistence users, seek ways to minimize conflicts between wilderness and subsistence users, and support sound wildlife practices. [33]

One organizational change that resulted from the March 1993 conference was the establishment of an ad hoc Superintendents' Subsistence Committee. By June 1993, this group had already held two teleconferences, and briefing papers had been completed on several of the major topics that had been addressed at the conference. In addition to completing the remainder of the briefing papers, two goals that the ad hoc committee hoped to pursue were the establishment of an annual meeting of the various SRC chairs and further training for rank-and-file SRC members. [34]

regional NPS officials
Regional NPS officials in 1993 included (top row, left to right): Clay Alderson (KLGO), Bill Welch (ARO), Steve Martin (GAAR), Bob Gerhard (NWAK). Second row: Mickie Hellickson (SITK), Karen Wade (WRST), Anne Castellina (KEFJ), Dave Ames (ARO). Third row: Jack Morehead (ARO), Paul Haertel (ARO), Judy Gottlieb (ARO), Don Chase (BELA). Fourth row: Paul Anderson (ARO), Janet McCabe (ARO), Russell Berry (DENA), Marvin Jensen (GLBA), Will Tipton (KATM). Front row: Ralph Tingey (ARO), Paul Guraedy (YUCH). NPS (AKSO)

During the summer of 1993, however, the momentum that had been established in the wake of the subsistence conference apparently dissipated. [35] Perhaps because of the July 1993 retirement of Roger Siglin, who had played a crucial role in organizing the subsistence conference, no further meetings of the Superintendents' Subsistence Committee took place.

In many respects, it appeared that the subsistence conference, at best, had had a temporary impact on long-established decision making patterns. Despite the urgings of two SRCs as well as the Superintendents' Subsistence Committee, the agency made no move during the summer or fall of 1993 to convene a meeting of the SRC chairs; similarly, nothing was done regarding training for SRC members. And subsistence users continued to be vexed by departmental inaction on several key SRC resolutions; in one particularly flagrant case, a resolution put forth by the Lake Clark SRC calling for so-called roster regulations, foot-dragging at the Secretarial level was such that the SRC was forced to send a reminder note to the Interior Secretary asking for a response. That letter, sent in August 1992—more than six years after the SRC had sent its resolution—brought forth only a lukewarm response from the NPS's Washington office. No one appeared willing or able to break the bureaucratic logjam. By the fall of 1993, these and similar actions (or inactions) were causing park superintendents to again voice the same complaints that had been heard prior to the March conference. Many of those complaints were directed at the Subsistence Division's chief who, in the opinion of many superintendents, refused to consult or coordinate with them on various subsistence proposals and activities. [36]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003