Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
NPS Logo

Chapter 8:

D. The NPS Subsistence Program, 1996-present

Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson served as the Alaska Region's Deputy Superintendent from 1992 to 2002. From 1994 to 1999, he served as the NPS's representative to the Federal Subsistence Board. NPS (AKSO)

No sooner had the mid-February meetings taken place than SRC members and other observers began to recognize, to an ever-increasing degree, that NPS staff bore a new attitude toward subsistence issues. (Superintendent Jarvis himself called it a "new paradigm.") Personnel at both the support office as well as the various parks listened anew to subsistence users' concerns, and agency personnel made renewed attempts to solve long-simmering issues related to eligibility, access, and similar topics. And as if to underscore the agency's willingness to sound out subsistence users' concerns, Deputy Regional Director Paul Anderson invited the various SRC chairs to an Anchorage workshop on June 1, 1996. It was the first time that the chairs had met in more than six years; furthermore, the NPS noted that "the meeting was a very positive and productive session and several recommendations resulted." [44]

Even before reorganization was complete, several subsistence experts felt that one significant way the agency could display a new openness toward subsistence issues was by preparing a public document explaining its stance on eligibility, access, and similar matters. As noted above, the NPS had expended a great effort two years earlier in order to prepare a "Draft Review of Subsistence Law and National Park Service Regulations," and shortly after Alaska's NPS superintendents met in mid-October 1995, agency officials decided that this document should be dusted off and used as the basis for public comment. [45] Over the next few months, members of all of the active SRCs were given a copy of the document and asked to comment on it. Copies were also distributed to state officials, regional advisory councils, representatives of Native corporations and conservation groups, post office boxholders in resident zone communities, and others interested in subsistence activities on NPS lands. [46] Bob Gerhard, an ad hoc subsistence coordinator in the regional office, played the lead role in distributing the document and receiving comments related to its strengths and weaknesses.

NPS subsistence staff, after receiving a broad array of comments, held a subsistence workshop in Anchorage on April 14-15, 1997 and hammered out a final draft, which was issued that July. This paper was critiqued once again, and a final copy was completed and distributed a month later. Despite the "final" nature of the August 1997 paper, those who coordinated its completion were careful to note that "the document is living and will continue to evolve." As if to emphasize the open process that produced the paper, each section of it included not only the final text but all comments to the draft and the NPS's response to those comments. Just a week after it was completed, the issues paper was distributed to an assembled meeting of SRC chairs; soon afterward, it was mailed out to local fish and game advisory committees, Native organizations, federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and interested individuals. The NPS produced and distributed more than 250 copies of the issues paper to a broad array of interested individuals: federal and state legislators, SRC members, and other subsistence users as well as to NPS staff. [47]

A project far more massive, and no less important to the various SRCs, was the preparation of a series of subsistence management plans. As has been noted above, Title VIII of ANILCA gave few specifics as to what specifically constituted a "program for subsistence hunting" in the various park units, and because of that lack, the SRCs provided widely varying versions of what, in their opinion, fulfilled that requirement. The NPS, as a result, occasionally fumed that what the SRCs submitted fell short of a "program for subsistence hunting," and although various general management plans called for the preparation of a subsistence management plan, agency officials were loathe to make specific suggestions for what specifically was needed.

Shortly after the reorganization was completed, Superintendent Jarvis suggested that what constituted a "subsistence management plan" was, to a large degree, a compendium of all subsistence-related actions—Congressional laws, departmental regulations, agency interpretations and SRC recommendations—pertaining to a particular park unit. Given that administrative road map, he asked if subsistence specialist Janis Meldrum would be able to work together with Jay Wells, his chief ranger and subsistence coordinator, to assemble such a record for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Work began in the spring of 1996, and by February 1997 Meldrum had an initial draft ready for distribution to the park's SRC members. For the next two years, the park's SRC reviewed and critiqued the plan at its semiannual meetings; in response to members' comments, Meldrum revised and expanded the draft plan. Finally, in November 1998, the public review process had been completed, and Meldrum and the SRC declared that a mutually satisfactory product was at hand. [48]

Denali NP Subsistence Resource Commission
The Denali National Park Subsistence Resource Commission has had the same chairperson—Florence Collins of Lake Minchumina—since its inception in 1984. Since 1993, communications from Denali's SRC have sported this handsome letterhead. NPS (DENA)

Meldrum has also compiled two other subsistence management plans. In the spring of 1997, she began work on the Denali National Park SMP and was able to complete an initial draft plan in time for the SRC's July 1997 meeting; the plan, however, did not go through its ninety-day public review period until the fall of 1999, and the SRC did not officially approve it until August 2000. And in the fall of 1997, she began work on a similar effort for Lake Clark National Park. She distributed an initial draft of the volume at the park SRC's February 1998 meeting, and after a ninety-day public review period, the Lake Clark SRC declared the plan complete at its October 2000 meeting. [49]

Two other subsistence management plans were guided, to some extent, by the efforts of subsistence specialist Clarence Summers. In mid-1997, Summers assisted Steve Ulvi on a plan for Gates of the Arctic National Park, and during the same period he started work with Susan Savage (and later with Donald Mike) on a similar volume for Aniakchak National Monument. The Gates of the Arctic volume was initially shown to park's SRC in January 1998, but a draft of the Aniakchak volume was not ready until its SRC met in November 2000. The Gates of the Arctic SRC, along with Superintendent Dave Mills, declared that its subsistence management plan was complete at the November 14, 2000 SRC meeting; as for Aniakchak, the monument's SRC approved its hunting plan at a Chignik Lake meeting on February 20, 2002. [50]

The success of the various subsistence management plans has spawned similar educational efforts at various park units. The goal of some of these efforts has been to educate subsistence users about basic hunting rules and regulations, while other efforts have attempted to educate the general public about subsistence activities and their role in Alaska's national park units.

The first such effort, begun in February 1998 at the request of the Denali National Park SRC, was the preparation of a users' guide that would give condensed, pertinent information about subsistence rules and regulations as they pertained to Denali-area subsistence users. This short report was first presented to the SRC at its August 1998 meeting; the SRC approved a final version six months later, and in August 1999 copies were mailed to all postal boxholders in Denali's four resident zone communities.

Soon after work began on the Denali report, park and support-office staff began work on a similar effort at Wrangell-St. Elias. But based on suggestions from the park's SRC, the agency decided, in lieu of a users' guide, to compile a series of public-education hunting maps and a brochure briefly describing the park's subsistence program to area subsistence users. By early May 1998, the NPS had produced maps for the Northway and Tanacross areas for caribou, for sheep, and for moose. The maps were well received by the residents of those communities. By the following March, copies of the final brochure had been mailed out to all boxholders in the park's 18 resident-zone communities, and two months later, a new set of hunting maps (for sheep, caribou, and moose) was made available to residents of twelve area communities.

At other park units, SRCs have suggested new ways to publicize the agency's subsistence program. In the fall of 1998, work began on a Lake Clark National Park users' guide, and two years later a similar effort began at Gates of the Arctic National Park. The Lake Clark guide was completed in March 2001, while the Gates of the Arctic guide has been finished in draft form. At Denali National Park and Preserve, the SRC opted for a subsistence brochure; unlike its equivalent at Wrangell-St. Elias, this was intended primarily for park visitors rather than area subsistence users. Alaska Support Office staff completed this task in early 2001. [51]

In the years since the issuance of the so-called "Jarvis report," relations between NPS staff and subsistence users have been fairly amicable. This "era of good feeling"—which was a decided change from the storminess that had characterized relations in past years—has emerged for several reasons. First, both park staff and support-office (regional) staff came to recognize both the necessity and desirability of finding common solutions to subsistence-related problems. And as a corollary to that mutual recognition, the agency has been able to provide sufficient staff time and financial support to allow SRC members and other subsistence users to periodically and democratically express their opinions on subsistence-related issues.

Communication has been a key to this "new paradigm." The agency, for example, has encouraged each of the SRCs to meet as often as necessary and has consistently provided funding for travel and per diem expenses, even when meeting in remote, rural locations. In addition, the agency has arranged for annual opportunities for the SRC chairs to meet, discuss common problems, and formulate resolutions of mutual interest. [52] The SRCs, with the agency's blessing, have made recommendations on a wide variety of topics in recent years, and their advice is now sought by the various regional advisory committees on matters pertaining to wildlife and fisheries management within the areas of their jurisdiction. In recognition of that expanded role, the SRCs now often schedule their meetings so that they can take maximum advantage of either 1) submitting new wildlife and fish proposals so they can be considered by a regional advisory committee, or 2) evaluating previously-submitted proposals that affect wildlife and fish populations within a given park unit.

SRC members
Since 1996, the various SRC chairs have met each year to discuss common issues and concerns, both with each other and with NPS officials. Photographed at their October 2001 meeting, chairs included (left to right): Pete Schaeffer (CAKR), Ray Sensmeier (WRST), Florence Collins (DENA), Jack Reakoff (GAAR vice-chair), and Walter Sampson (KOVA). Author's collection

Managing Alaskan subsistence resources in recent years has been a more decentralized process than had been the case prior to the Subsistence Division's dissolution. The so-called Jarvis report had suggested one possible management solution—in lieu of a formalized divisional structure, "interdisciplinary teams (IDTs) would be formed to handle existing and new issues ... each IDT would be ... temporary or long term as the project dictated." Indeed, an ad hoc IDT structure was employed during much of 1996 and 1997 (i.e., during the completion of the issues paper) to accomplish subsistence-related goals; the only formal structure was that provided by a so-called Subsistence Committee of the Alaska Cluster of Superintendents. [53] But as the issues paper neared its completion, subsistence personnel began to recognize the need for some form of regularized organization. In order to provide a periodic forum for the discussion of common subsistence issues, Bob Gerhard—who had been serving as an ad hoc subsistence facilitator since his return to Anchorage in September 1996—convened a monthly teleconference beginning in June 1997. [54] This meeting, which provided the opportunity for park subsistence coordinators, superintendents, regional managers and regional subsistence staff to share ideas and opinions, met each month on a fairly regular basis.

The latest change to the subsistence management structure took place in 1999. In mid-February of that year, the various park subsistence coordinators, along with other subsistence experts, convened for several days in Anchorage and established a regional Subsistence Advisory Committee. By forming such a committee, subsistence personnel were provided a designated conduit for evaluating subsistence projects; as such, it put them on a par with their co-workers in the natural resource and cultural resource spheres. [55] Several months later, the Alaska Cluster of Superintendents approved the petition that officially sanctioned the committee. Ever since that time, subsistence personnel have continued to meet once each month; meetings of the Subsistence Advisory Committee have alternated with meetings of the more loosely-affiliated group that had been meeting since June 1997. Another managerial change in 1999 was a direct outgrowth of the assumption of fisheries management on federal lands, which took place on October 1 (see Chapter 9). In recognition of that action, Sandy Rabinowitch became the de facto coordinator of wildlife-related subsistence activities—particularly as they related to the Federal Subsistence Board—while Bob Gerhard assumed a coordinating role over the agency's subsistence fisheries management efforts.

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

Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003