Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

G. SRC Recommendations: Eligibility Issues

During the 1990s, SRC members and other subsistence users continued to be concerned over several eligibility-related issues. Among them were 1) the consideration of new resident-zone communities, 2) the delineation of resident-zone boundaries, 3) the establishment of a community-wide "roster system," and 4) the imposition of a residency requirement. These four topics will be discussed in the order listed above.

1. New Resident Zone Communities. As noted in Chapters 5 and 6, Alaska's national park units had 49 different resident zone communities at the close of the 1980s; this was the same number that had been listed in the June 1981 subsistence management regulations (see Table 5-1). [85] During the 1980s, SRCs had sent letters to the Interior Secretary recommending that Ugashik, Pilot Point and Northway be considered as new resident zone communities, but each had been rejected on the grounds that the NPS knew of no proven interest in subsistence hunting by residents of those communities.

During the 1990s, these and other communities were considered anew for resident zone status. At Aniakchak, SRC members recognized in 1990 that a logical first step to involve Ugashik and Pilot Point residents was to have them apply for 13.44 permits; given that option, the SRC received no further action for new resident zones. Seven years later, a similar scenario was played out at Denali; the SRC asked the park superintendent for assistance in obtaining resident zone status for Tanana, and in response, the NPS dispatched the park's subsistence coordinator to the community but found no one there interested in obtaining a 13.44 permit. [86]

All other activity pertaining to potential new resident zones occurred at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. As has been noted in greater detail in the park's subsistence management plan, the SRC responded to the Interior Secretary's denial of eligibility for Northway by resubmitting, in December 1991, a recommendation that was similar in intent to that which it had submitted in August 1985. Seven months later, the Interior Secretary responded to the SRC by noting that "the NPS must first verify that [Northway has] a significant concentration of local rural residents with a history of subsistence use." [87] Four years later, the SRC also recommended the addition of Tetlin and Dot Lake as resident-zone communities, and before long Tanacross, Healy Lake, and Cordova were considered as well. The NPS responded to each of these requests by either 1) studying the situation (support-office staff wrote a 1998 environmental assessment regarding the eligibility of Northway, Tetlin, Tanacross, and Dot Lake), 2) holding a public hearing soliciting interest from townspeople, or 3) asking an agency anthropologist to visit each community and ask residents about local subsistence-harvesting patterns. [88] In time, the NPS found that five villages—Dot Lake, Healy Lake, Northway, Tanacross, and Tetlin—were eligible to be new resident zone communities. As a result, the agency published a proposed rule on the subject in June 2001 and a final rule in February 2002. The rule became effective on March 27, 2002. [89]

2. Resident Zone Boundaries. As noted in Chapter 6, NPS officials had made some attempts during the 1980s to establish boundaries around the resident zone communities, but their efforts had been only modestly successful. By 1990, in fact, only two resident zone communities had established boundaries, both of which were near Denali. The Wrangell-St. Elias SRC, by contrast, had dug in its heels and stated its refusal to establish any such boundary lines.

This halting progress continued during the 1990s. Communities adjacent to several park areas moved to establish resident zone boundaries, but elsewhere, NPS officials and SRC members skirmished over the issue, resulting in an awkward standoff. At Denali, for example, the park SRC decided in June 1994 to establish boundaries around the two resident-zone communities (Nikolai and Telida) that did not previously have one. [90] And at Gates of the Arctic, the park SRC responded to a request from the Wiseman Community Association by moving, in September 1991, to establish boundaries for Wiseman; the NPS responded to the SRC's proposal the following February by conditionally approving the proposed boundaries. [91]

Karen Wade
Karen Wade, Wrangell-St. Elias's superintendent from 1990 to 1994, weighed in on many subsistence issues. A particularly nettlesome issue was that of resident zone community boundaries: whether boundaries should be established, and if so, where they should be located. NPS (AKSO)

At most park units, NPS officials were relatively unconcerned about the application of boundaries; as Regional Director John Morehead noted, "it has not been necessary to literally identify community boundaries because the geographic extent of the communities is easily identifiable." But at Wrangell-St. Elias, conditions were different because "the geographic confines of the communities designated in 1981 were never clearly identified for eligibility purposes, primarily because the communities are along highway systems." [92] Here, the NPS and the SRC had less amicable relations. In the late 1980s, it may be recalled, the Interior Secretary's office had intimated that the park SRC should "conservatively" establish boundaries for its resident-zone communities, but the SRC defiantly responded that "no change is necessary to further restrict eligible residents (such as the Park Service suggestions to define boundaries)." A second round of conflict in this arena erupted in the early 1990s. It began in June 1992, when NPS officials began working on a proposed boundary for Glennallen. By late November, they had expanded their effort and, at an SRC meeting, officials again proposed conservatively-drawn boundaries around each of the park's 18 resident-zone communities. "The intent of the Park Service," Superintendent Karen Wade told the SRC, "is to put boundaries into effect in a timely manner after consultations with the Commission." The Commission, however, "expressed concerns with the boundaries as presented to it," and its response was to recommend a second set of boundaries for 15 of the 18 communities: a long, 15-mile-wide resident zone that paralleled the northern and western park boundary. (This band would include all resident-zone communities located along the Glenn and Richardson highways between Slana and Tonsina). The SRC, together with the park, agreed to solicit and consider public comment on both sets of boundaries before making a recommendation to the Interior Secretary. A public comment period, in which proposed maps were distributed to interested persons, began on January 19 and ended on March 26, 1993. [93] On April 6, the park SRC met and decided to establish a subcommittee that would "complete the draft recommendations which had been started." The subcommittee, in fact, soon emerged with a draft proposal—to adopt the same 15-mile-wide resident zone it had recommended several months earlier—and in April 1994 the full SRC recommended the same action. The NPS, however, was less than enthusiastic over the SRC's proposal, and in the SRC's 1995 annual report the agency noted that the proposal was "still in review." [94] But sometime during the next few years—perhaps because of the "Jarvis report" and its ramifications—the agency had a change of heart. In November 1998, the minutes for the park's SRC meeting noted that Jack Hession of the Sierra Club "also felt ... that RZC [resident zone community] boundaries should be established. Again, NPS disagrees with that." [95]

Although most parties agreed that the idea of establishing boundaries for existing resident-zone communities should be dropped, most likewise agreed that it was necessary to establish boundaries as a prerequisite for the establishment of any new resident zone communities. SRC members recognized that doing so was a political necessity; as park resource manager Russell Galipeau noted,

to establish these communities as RZC but without boundaries ... would be rejected by the environmental community. [It] is our preference that each community would have up to one year from the date of establishment to recommend to the Superintendent the boundaries of their communities; if they do not do it within a year then would default to the census of 1990 for the designated areas. [96]

One high-profile issue related to resident zone boundaries that has been previously referred to (see Section C, above, and Chapter 6) was the proposal, by two northwestern Alaska SRCs, to have a single large residence zone that encompassed all land within the NANA Regional Corporation boundaries. This proposal had been discussed at a joint meeting of the Cape Krusenstern and Kobuk Valley SRCs as far back as February 1985; a proposal had been prepared for submission to the Interior Secretary in January 1986; and the Interior Secretary had actually been considering such a resolution since August 1993. But park and regional staff had differed on how a response letter should be worded, and the continuing standoff had resulted in a June 1994 letter from the two SRC chairs that they would cease meeting until the Interior Secretary had sent them a "formal response to the recommendations contained in the proposed hunting plan." The chairs' strong stand resulted in a predictable new round of draft responses by both park and regional officials, and by February 1995 Regional Director Robert Barbee had approved a draft response that was forwarded on to Washington. But no answer from Washington (from either the NPS or the Interior Secretary's office) was immediately forthcoming, and the lack of apparent activity made it appear, to SRC officials at least, that the agency was in no rush to respond to the August 1993 hunting plan.

During the same period in which the "Jarvis report" was approved and renewed exposure was given to the "Draft Review of Subsistence Law and NPS Regulations," Northwest Alaska Areas personnel reasserted their previously-held position relative to the Cape Krusenstern/Kobuk Valley SRCs' hunting plan. In mid-April 1996, they conducted their own assessment of the "Draft Review" package, and they concluded, in part, that

The resident zone for Kobuk Valley National Park and for Cape Krusenstern National Monument is a single area (coinciding with the NANA Regional Corporation boundaries). The people of the Northwest Arctic Region consider themselves a cohesive social and cultural unit and have traditionally hunted throughout the area without regard to jurisdictional boundaries. The large single area resident zone best represents the traditional and continuing hunting patterns of the people of the area. [97]

A more important factor in breaking the logjam, however, was a July 1996 fact-finding trip to Kotzebue taken by Deborah Williams, the Interior Department's Alaska representative, and by Deputy Interior Secretary John Garamendi. During that trip, Northwest Areas Superintendent Bob Gerhard mentioned the issue to Williams and Garamendi. Williams, dismayed at the standoff, facilitated a meeting of park staff, regional office staff and a Secretary's representative that finally brought action. Interior Department officials issued a response letter to the SRCs' hunting plan on September 25, 1996. On the resident-zone boundary issue, they concluded that the Commissions' recommendations were "worthy of further investigation." As a result, they demanded that the NPS, within a year, complete a report assessing the subsistence and environmental impacts of the SRCs' recommendation. [98] By early 1999, park staff had begun work on both a "Section 810" report on the topic and an accompanying environmental assessment. But the SRCs' seven-year hiatus delayed resolution of the issue, and efforts to work out a broad agreement have not yet been consummated. [99]

Recognizing that the key criterion for defining a resident zone community has been "significant concentrations" of subsistence users, several efforts were made during the 1990s to more specifically define the term. In 1992, the Interior Secretary's office informed one SRC that the "significant concentrations" requirement had to be verified before any new resident zone communities could be considered. At Gates of the Arctic, the SRC was asked to help on the definition, and in July 1993, subsistence coordinator Steve Ulvi cautiously stated, "Some have suggested that 'significant concentrations' may mean at least 51% of the people within a community." [100] During the winter of 1996-1997, the term was debated again as part of the public process that resulted in the August 1997 issues paper; some felt that 51% of the population constituted a "significant concentration," while others argued that a more vaguely-defined "cultural vitality" (or "subsistence character") determined eligibility as a resident zone community. The final issues paper reflected both viewpoints. [101]

Lake Clark NP SRC Meeting
Lake Clark National Park SRC Meeting, February 2001. Those in attendance include (left to right) Chief Ranger Lee Fink (NPS), SRC chair Glen Alsworth (from Port Alsworth), and members Andrew Balluta (Newhalen), Lary Hill (Iliamna), Howard Bowman (Lake Clark), Bill Trefon, Sr. (Nondalton), and Melvin Trefon (Nondalton). Balluta also serves on the Bristol Bay Subsistence Regional Advisory Council. NPS (LACL), photo by Karen Stickman

3. The roster regulations idea. A third major issue related to eligibility was whether resident-zone communities would opt for so-called "roster regulations" (a community-wide permit system) in order to protect subsistence opportunities for long-term community residents. As noted in Chapter 6, both the Lake Clark and Denali SRCs had advanced such an idea because members were concerned about an influx of residents due to large-scale development projects, and the Interior Department in its 1988 responses had certified the concept's validity. Clouding the picture, however, was the State of Alaska's reversal of its previous position approving the idea; in addition, the Denali SRC—no longer worried about impending development in the Cantwell area—was now less than enthusiastic about pushing the idea for that community.

During the 1990s, the roster regulations issue was considered by four SRCs, two of which had been active on the issue during the previous decade. At Denali and Lake Clark, the SRCs hoped that the Interior Department would follow its 1988 approval of the roster regulations concept by initiating a rulemaking process. That process, however, did not begin until July 1991, when the NPS's regional director submitted a proposed rule to Washington. That rule, revised by the regional office in October, was reviewed by the NPS's Solicitor's office in February 1992. The rulemaking, however, was halted for the time being because in January 1992, President Bush issued a broad moratorium on the issuance of new government regulations. Glen Alsworth, who was apprised of the moratorium later that year, questioned the "apparent inaction of the Department of the Interior in promulgating regulations;" further, he stated that the Lake Clark SRC "does not feel that the presidential moratorium should have any effect upon this particular action" because "it does not stand to effect the economy." But Washington-based NPS official John H. Davis begged to differ; he replied that "While the proposed rule may not appear to have a significant effect on the economy, the moratorium is more inclusive" and that "a strict reading of the criteria would indicate that the proposed rule could not be exempted." [102]

Just a month after Davis's letter, President Bush's defeat in the 1992 general election campaign promised new leadership in Washington. The change of leaders, however, brought a temporary slowdown in administrative machinery, and the lack of movement on the roster regulations issue forced Morehead, in July 1993, to once again write to Washington "to reemphasize the need for publication of the Alaska Region's proposed regulation." "Both the NPS in Alaska and the Lake Clark and Denali SRCs," he wrote, "have been distressed by the delay in publication of this regulatory package. This delay has seriously affected the credibility of the NPS" because of the failure of the SRCs' program recommendations "to be 'promptly' implemented." Morehead noted that "a delay of 5 years in implementing mandated departmental action seems unreasonable. We hope," however, "that the new administration will make the publication of this proposed regulation a priority." [103] The Washington office, however, did not move on the issue, and in February 1995—more than a year and a half after Morehead's second reminder letter—an obviously frustrated Florence Collins complained to Secretary Babbitt about the department's inaction. She noted, with understated emphasis, that "it has been seven years since we submitted our proposal and nearly as many years since the proposed Roster Regulations have been submitted to the Department. [The SRC] feels this delay is inappropriate," and "we respectfully request" that some action take place on the issue by July 1. [104] Given such a reasonable plea from one of Alaska's most conscientious subsistence representatives, NPS officials scrambled to provide some answers; in April, Regional Director Barbee noted that "we anticipate a proposed rule to be published in the Federal Register in the next few months," and in June Barbee informed her that "we continue to support the proposal" and "we are hopeful for further action by July 1, as you have requested." [105] But Alaskan officials, to their chagrin, soon learned that a key Washington official "may be willing to move [the roster regulation] along, but it doesn't appear to be a high priority...." Given that state of affairs and other complications, the proposal continued to languish in Washington, and in mid-July 1995, Barbee was again forced to note that "DOI continues to review the proposal and has not yet requested publication in the Federal Register which would start formal rulemaking." [106]

This state of affairs remained until August 1996, when the Denali SRC was asked to comment on the "Draft Review of Subsistence Law and NPS Regulations." During the SRC's section-by-section review of that document, it reiterated its general support for a roster regulation, but it further avoided a prickly issue by stating that "we do not want to be the responsible party for picking the roster list members. The Commission as a group is not familiar enough with all the individuals within the resident zone populations to be able to fairly identify all eligible users." [107] When the Lake Clark SRC met in February 1998, its members discussed the proposed roster regulations, and comments from members appeared to be similar to those stated, eighteen months earlier, by the Denali SRC. Based on such qualified support—and the lack of any population increase that threatened the area's subsistence resources—the Lake Clark SRC moved to rescind the original set of proposed regulations. Soon afterward, the NPS withdrew the rule from consideration based on a perception that the Lake Clark and Denali SRCs no longer supported such an action. [108]

By mid-1998, therefore, the long-discussed idea of a roster regulation appeared to be dead. But an action from an unexpected source —the Aniakchak National Monument SRC—soon revived the idea. During the early 1990s, this Aniakchak SRC had wrestled with the roster regulations issue, and in a March 1992 hunting plan recommendation it had concluded that it "supports the development of a ... roster regulation." The Commission admitted that it had no interest in "changing resident zone status right now," but it did want "the opportunity to do so [later] if needed with the option of using a roster system." This recommendation was duly forwarded to others for their comment, but due to the Commission's inability to muster a quorum for its meetings, the recommendation could not be forwarded to the Interior Secretary until October 1998. The official response, received by the SRC a month later, stated that the NPS promised to "re-submit a draft proposed rule for a roster eligibility system." As a result of that submission, the roster regulations idea is again alive and well. At present, however, the Interior Department has not yet approved a draft rule for publication as a proposed rulemaking. [109]

woman flensing a sheefish
Woman flensing a sheefsh with an ulu at the water's edge, June 1974. NPS (ATF, Box 10), photo 2341-3, by Robert Belous

Communities in one other SRC—Gates of the Arctic—have toyed with the idea of a roster regulation. As noted above (Section F), the NPS was involved in a land use issue in the Anaktuvuk Pass area that began in 1983 and continued for more than a decade. Between 1989 and 1991, the NPS compiled a Legislative Environmental Impact Statement (LEIS) on ATV use in the Anaktuvuk Pass area, and options that were considered in the draft and final versions of the LEIS called for the replacement of the Anaktuvuk Pass resident zone with a roster regulation. In light of that process, the park's SRC passed a May 1991 resolution that stated, in part,

If substantive changes occur in any of the communities such that established patterns of subsistence use are significantly altered, the Commission might recommend that a permit system be substituted for the resident zone to ensure that park values and subsistence needs are protected. Such changes might include connection of the community to a year-round road or significant changes in the local economy to the degree in which subsistence no longer comprises a major component. Because of its unique history, circumstances, and the stated desires of the representatives of the community of Anaktuvuk Pass, the Commission supports the elimination of the resident zone and the development of a roster system, subject to Commission review, as described in the proposed Agreement among the National Park Service, the Nunamiut Corporation and the City of Anaktuvuk Pass. [110]

But changes in the "proposed Agreement" in the next few months removed the need to eliminate the Anaktuvuk Pass resident zone, and by February 1992, the resolution that was sent to the Interior Secretary made no mention of a roster regulation. Similarly, SRC minutes beginning in early 1990 show that the residents of Wiseman seriously weighed the idea of establishing a roster regulation for their community. But in August 1991, the Wiseman Community Association held a public meeting and decided "that we ... want to retain our Resident Zone Status." Since that time the issue has not again surfaced, either in Wiseman or in any of Gates of the Arctic's other resident zone communities. [111]

4. Residency requirements. A fourth eligibility issue that subsistence resource commissions debated was, how long does someone need to live in a resident zone community in order to harvest subsistence resources? The subsistence regulations clearly state that subsistence harvests would be open to those who lived in resident zone communities (or those outside of such communities who qualified for 13.44 permits). Beyond that requirement, the regulations are relatively lenient; they note that "This concept [of a local rural resident] does not impose a durational residency requirement." [112]

Despite that interpretation, various SRCs have broached the idea of a minimum period of residency in order to protect area subsistence resources. In May 1988, it may be recalled, the Interior Secretary had disallowed the SRC's attempt to impose a 12-month minimum residency, citing the 1981 regulation as the reason for doing so. They continued to retain such a stance until November 1989, but the state—which managed subsistence at the time—also rejected the idea because it was inconsistent with state statutes. Given that advice, at least one Commission member pressed for a recommendation "that emphasizes the need for a [resident] state hunting license" (which required a 12-month residency in the state), but the SRC's 1991-1992 recommendations omitted any mention of a residency requirement. [113]

The issue lay dormant for the next several years, but in March 1997 the Wrangell-St. Elias SRC resurrected it as part of its review of the draft issues paper. The SRC concluded that

an individual should be required to live in a resident zone community for at least one year before becoming eligible for subsistence uses within the national park. There was concern that people are establishing "instant eligibility" with no intent of living in the community on a permanent basis. The SRC felt that a minimum residency requirement of one year would be sufficient. [114]

At its next meeting, in November 1997, the Wrangell-St. Elias SRC passed a draft hunting plan recommendation calling for a one-year residency requirement. The recommendation made an exception for students and the military; these individuals would be allowed to temporarily leave the area and retain their subsistence eligibility if they had previously established residency. [115] This vote was followed, just ten days later, with a similar draft recommendation (for a "minimum residency requirement" of undetermined length) from the Aniakchak SRC. Almost a year later, at an Anchorage meeting, the SRC chairs discussed these two recommendations, and in October 1999, the issue arose again. A key question emanating from the discussions was: Inasmuch as resident hunting licenses were required of all subsistence hunters, was a one-year residency requirement necessary? Since that time, the various SRCs have shown a diversity of opinion on the topic, but no move has yet been made by those who favor a residency requirement to suggest new or modified regulations. [116]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003