Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

H. SRC Recommendations: Access Issues

During the 1980s, most of the state's SRCs were concerned about questions of subsistence access to the various park units; NPS officials endeavored to explain access-related laws and regulations, and various SRCs passed recommendations intended to either clarify subsistence legalities or lodge a clear statement of intent regarding the legitimacy of existing access methods. Conflict erupted between the NPS and the SRCs on numerous access questions. By the end of the decade, most of the state's SRCs—though they may or may not have been pleased with how the Interior Department and NPS interpreted the regulations—at least had a clear idea on what those regulations were.

Access questions remained prominent through most of the 1990s. These questions took several forms, including 1) protests against the NPS's subsistence aircraft access policies, 2) protests against the agency's all-terrain vehicle policies, and 3) attempts, by both SRC members and NPS staff, to study the legality and methodology of access into Alaska's park units.

As ANILCA's legislative history and the final 1981 regulations had made clear, aircraft were to be used only sparingly to access subsistence resources in the Alaskan parks. In only two cases—at Anaktuvuk Pass (in Gates of the Arctic National Park) and on the Malaspina Forelands (in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park)—were aircraft to be considered a "traditional" (and thus legitimate) form of subsistence access. Furthermore, NPS officials ruled that it was illegal for subsistence hunters to fly to an area just outside of a national park in order to harvest wildlife inside a park's borders. These regulations and interpretations angered many subsistence users because, in their estimation, the use of aircraft was the primary way to access subsistence resources in remote areas.

These protests continued. Between 1988 and 1990, for example, several Gates of the Arctic airplane owners—one an SRC member—publicly stated their opposition to the agency's subsistence access policy. [117] Several years later, a Glennallen resident told the Wrangell-St Elias superintendent, "you realize that traditional access to most areas in the park has been by aircraft. In fact, in many cases [it] is the only reasonable access." At Wrangell-St. Elias, feelings about the NPS's access policy—first clarified in 1985—continued to run so strong that in 1997, the park SRC urged the agency to "change its policy to allow subsistence users to fly to the preserve, to private lands within the park or to land adjacent to [the] park and then walk into the park to subsistence hunt." And at Aniakchak—as at Wrangell-St. Elias—SRC members were disgruntled with the Interior Secretary's 1988 refusal to recognize aircraft access as "traditional." The Aniakchak SRC, however, decided in 1992 "not to pursue [the issue of] airplane access at this time ... there were not very good places to land within the monument anyway." [118]

NPS staff and SRC members also debated a closely related aviation access issue; namely, can someone living in a park's resident zone community fly to another resident zone community for subsistence hunting purposes? Back in 1987, the Gates of the Arctic SRC had recommended that the subsistence regulations "not be interpreted by the NPS as restricting in any way [the] travel of local rural residents on scheduled air carriers between villages in or near the park." The Interior Department, however, skeptically noted that such an activity "would presumably take a person out of his community's traditional use zone and into that of another. This could prove detrimental to the satisfaction of subsistence needs of local residents." The recommendation was denied. [119] The SRC fully recognized the NPS's rationale as it pertained to flying to the boundary of a national park for subsistence purposes, but it argued that flying between resident zone communities—for whatever reason—did not fit that criteria. At several meetings during 1989 and 1990, the SRC and agency staff wrestled with the problem, but the SRC, holding fast to its opinion, stubbornly insisted that "the NPS has no authority to restrict air access between resident zone communities," and in both its draft (1991) and final (1992) recommendations it noted that "travel between resident zones located outside the park by eligible users should not be considered as accessing the park by aircraft. NPS has no jurisdiction over lands outside the park and applying Section 13.45 to such lands is clearly outside the scope of their authority." The Interior Department, however, continued to take a hard line; using language almost identical to that employed in 1988, the Department refused to implement the SRC's recommendation. [120] The conflict, to a large extent, was reflective of the long-running difference of opinion between the agency and subsistence users over traditional use zones (see Chapter 6 and Section I); many NPS officials felt that each resident zone community had its own, geographically-limited traditional use zone, while "some commission members felt that resident zone subsistence users should have customary and traditional use in all of Gates of the Arctic National Park." [121]

In a few cases, the NPS's access rules forced subsistence users who had both a winter home and summertime hunting cabin to choose a "primary, permanent home." Jeff Poor, for example, maintained one residence in a resident zone community (Bettles) and another in a remote area (Iniakuk Lake). Poor typically flew his plane from Bettles to Iniakuk Lake, and from there he entered Gates of the Arctic National Park via snowmachine and ran a trap line. The NPS had no problem with his dual residency, with his snowmachine activities or with his trap line operation; it was, however, concerned about his using the Iniakuk Lake cabin as a temporary residence prior to trapping operations. If he chose Bettles as his permanent residence, he was free to "engage in subsistence activities within the park" but he could not fly to his cabin prior to entering the park. If he chose Iniakuk Lake as his primary residence, he would also be free to harvest the park's subsistence resources and would similarly be free to fly in and out of his cabin anytime he chose; but if he did so, he would need to obtain a subsistence permit (13.44 permit). Given those options, Poor chose the latter course, and in late 1993 he became the holder of a subsistence permit. [122]

Russell Berry
Russell Berry was the superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve from 1989 to 1994. Beginning in 1992, Berry and his subsistence specialist, Hollis Twitchell, commenced a process that re-evaluated subsistence ATV use patterns in the Cantwell area. NPS (AKSO)

A second access issue revolved around the NPS's surface transportation policies, specifically as they related to all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use. During the 1980s the NPS had let it be known—based on its observation of existing conditions—that ATV use would be tacitly condoned for subsistence-access purposes at Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Lake Clark National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, so long as subsistence users remained on existing routes and ATV use did not unduly damage park resources (see Chapter 6). At the other parks, the agency declared that ATV use was not traditional and was therefore prohibited.

At parks where ATV use was prohibited, subsistence users and park staff reacted in widely divergent ways to the agency's dictums. At Gates of the Arctic, for example, the 1983 Chandler Lake land agreement in the Anaktuvuk Pass area (see Chapter 6) meant that ATV use, previously confined to Native- and state-owned lands within park boundaries, was now taking place on NPS lands. But NPS officials felt so strongly about prohibiting ATV use in the park that they initiated a series of discussions that culminated, more than a decade later, in the Congressional passage of a four-way land swap. At Aniakchak, the monument's SRC reacted to the Interior Secretary's prohibition against ATV use by deciding "not to pursue [the issue of] ATV access at this time." [123] At Cape Krusenstern, NPS officials in 1992 took a narrow view and stated that ATVs were "currently not allowed," but in language reflective of the park's general management plan, the park superintendent told SRC members that the agency "was interested and ready to work with [them] to identify trails and access routes." The SRC, in response, took a bold stand; it recommended to the Interior Secretary "that traditional use of ATVs ... be allowed in the Monument for subsistence purposes and to access inholdings." But the Secretary responded that "there has been no evidence presented to indicate that subsistence use of ORVs in CAKR is a traditional means of access for subsistence," and he thus vetoed the SRC's recommendation. [124]

At Denali, new information about ATV use resulted in a reassessment of the agency's access rules. In the newly-expanded portions of Denali National Park, it may be recalled (from Chapter 6) that ATV use was prohibited because, as noted in the park's GMP, "existing information indicates that specific ORV use has not regularly been used for subsistence purposes." Hollis Twitchell, the newly-hired park subsistence coordinator, reiterated the park's stance at a 1992 SRC meeting held in Cantwell. But as the minutes noted, "some hunters were not aware of this prohibition," and two months later, Twitchell explained the park's position once again to southside subsistence users. [125] Cantwell resident Vernon J. Carlson responded to the news by writing a letter to Superintendent Russell Berry; that letter described past ATV uses in the area and included affidavits from eight local residents detailing similar activities. Berry, who had long known that subsistence hunting had been taking place in park areas adjacent to Cantwell area, expressed a new willingness to learn more about ATV use patterns. The park scheduled an open house in Cantwell to solicit information on the customary and traditional uses of ATV use; that meeting, held on November 3, 1993, revealed that as early as the 1940s, one or more local residents had taken an ATV into the Windy Creek drainage of the "old park." In addition, several areas in the not-yet-designated "new park"—Bull River, Cantwell Creek, and Dunkle Hills—had witnessed ATV use for mining access. [126]

Steve Martin
Steve Martin, as the Gates of the Arctic superintendent (1993-94), backed user concerns in the traditional use zone issue; later, as the Denali superintendent (1994-2002), he worked to resolve the issue of subsistence ATV use near Cantwell. NPS (AKSO)

Steve Martin, who replaced Berry as park superintendent during the winter of 1994-95, showed an immediate interest in resolving the situation. During the summer of 1995, therefore, he met with Twitchell and Carlson and visited several of the Cantwell residents' better-traveled subsistence routes; during that inspection, he was able to witness both the long history of use and the relative lack of environmental degradation that resulted from that use. Given that situation, he let it be known, on an informal basis, that the NPS had few qualms with a continuation of existing route usage in various "new park" drainages west of Cantwell. [127] The SRC, not surprisingly, welcomed this apparent change of stance; in August 1996, it reiterated that "people in the Cantwell resident zone have used ATVs traditionally," and members unanimously passed a motion stating that "Access [to the park] should be allowed at the same level as 1980, with reasonable allowances for restrictions to preserve the environment." The following year, the NPS began "the process of preparing an environmental assessment on subsistence ORV use within the park." [128] That study has not yet been completed.

At parks in which historical access patterns are not well known, both park staff and SRC members have sought to clarify such uses by requesting funding for further research on the subject. At various times during the 1990s, several Alaska parks have requested subsistence access studies. At Aniakchak National Monument, the SRC in 1992 requested that the NPS "conduct a study on the modes of transportation, including aircraft, and routes and areas of access used for subsistence by area residents prior to ... 1980." At Cape Krusenstern, interest in an access study first surfaced in 1991, and in 1993 the monument's SRC formally asked the NPS to "identify and study conflicts between local residents who are engaged in subsistence hunting ... and other persons using aircraft in the same areas." The Interior Department responded to both recommendations by urging the NPS to undertake these studies. Neither study, however, has yet been funded. [129]

At Wrangell-St. Elias, the SRC's December 1991 passage of a hunting plan recommendation advocating an access study has engendered a complicated series of events. The Interior Secretary's reply, in July 1992, noted that "the NPS is in the process of incorporating, within the [park's] Resource Management Plan, a study of subsistence access and use areas within the park." [130] And indeed, by the following August the final park RMP featured a study that was intended "to determine the customary and traditional means and use of access points and routes as they relate to the temporal and spatial use of subsistence resources." The park, however, made no immediate move to fund the study, and in December 1993 the state's Department of Fish and Game had told the NPS that it was initiating its own study of subsistence and traditional access in the park and preserve. [131] Shortly after it began its study, ADF&G staff asked their NPS counterparts to examine pertinent records; the NPS granted that request, though with considerable caution. The park's SRC, upon hearing that the ADF&G's effort was faltering due to a funding shortfall, recommended that the NPS "contribut[e] staff time and/or funding toward its completion." But the NPS replied that "the anticipated 1995 subsistence research budget will be needed for the completion of ongoing projects." In November 1995, the state completed a pilot "study of traditional access used prior to ... 1980." The state, by this time, had identified some 1,400 miles of historical routes (so-called RS 2477 routes) within the national park. NPS officials worried that if federal regulations were approved sanctioning the state's claims, the routes would then become state rights-of-way. The issue, however, was then tied up in the courts. At the time of this writing it remains so, and no resolution between the state and federal governments is expected in the foreseeable future. The NPS, for its part, has not yet been able to secure funding for its own subsistence access study. [132]

Map 8-1. Resident Zone Community Boundary Proposals, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, 1992-1993.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003