Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

I. A Renewed Discussion of Traditional Use Zones

As noted in ANILCA, five Alaska park areas—Aniakchak, Gates of the Arctic, Lake Clark, Wrangell-St. Elias, and the Denali additions—contained language stating that subsistence uses would take place "where such uses are traditional, in accordance with the provisions of Title VIII." As noted in Chapter 6, the NPS asked the various SRCs to help delineate traditional use zone boundaries, but the SRCs—despite considerable prodding from NPS officials—were reluctant to make such determinations. By the end of the 1980s, most of the state's SRCs had mulled over the issue; the Gates of the Arctic SRC had spent considerable time on the matter. The result was an awkward standoff, but none had seriously considered (let alone recommended) any traditional use zones.

This pattern, of NPS encouragement and SRC recalcitrance, continued on into the early 1990s. At Wrangell-St. Elias (where NPS staff, during the mid-1980s, had stated that the imposition of traditional use zones "would be an administrative nightmare") and at Lake Clark, neither government officials nor SRC members showed any particular interest in changing the existing state of affairs. And at both Aniakchak and Denali, the only opinion expressed by SRC members, predictably, was that the entire park unit should be considered a traditional use area for everyone living in the various resident zone communities. Even the Cape Krusenstern SRC—where the "where traditional" clause did not apply—got into the act; it too passed a hunting plan statement "recommend[ing] that the entire Monument be classified as a traditional use area." [133]

Most of the discussion pertaining to this topic during the 1990s was directed to Gates of the Arctic National Park, where attention had also been focused during the 1980s. In May 1988, it may be recalled, the Interior Secretary had responded the SRC's May 1987 recommendation with a strongly-worded denial: the recommendation "will not be implemented because [it] seems to imply that the entire park is an area of traditional use. Congress was clear in its intent to have the Commissions and NPS identify traditional use areas and to have some areas of the park remain, for the most part, unhunted. ... We believe that the Commission ... should analyze the patterns of subsistence use following establishment of each community and develop a definition of traditional subsistence areas by community." [134]

This difference of opinion between the SRC and the federal government continued for the next several years. After learning that the Interior Secretary had rejected its recommendation, the SRC mulled over the issue for awhile; then, in November 1990, it once again decided "that the entire park be generally classified as a traditional use area," and it further noted that its conclusion was "consistent with, if not compelled by, the intent of Title VIII." In February 1992, that recommendation—with an added caveat that "when a wild, renewable resource must be protected in a specific area, the NPS will take appropriate steps to protect [it]"—was forwarded once again to the Interior Secretary. The Secretary, however, was no more favorably disposed to this recommendation than he had been to the SRC's previous (1987) proposal. The Secretary further noted that the NPS "was in the process of incorporating, within the Resource Management Plan, a study of traditional use areas for designated resident zone communities. ... Based upon the data presented in the study, the NPS will initiate a process to identify traditional subsistence hunting use areas." The agency promised to "consult with and involve the Commission" in this process. Even so, its decision to initiate such a study and, by implication, to identify park areas where subsistence hunting might not be allowed, was clearly a change in tactics—and one that threatened to undermine the SRC's role in the process. [135]

The SRC, unbowed by the Secretary's letter, fought back. At its October 1993 meeting, it passed a new traditional use area recommendation because it felt "compelled to defend their definition of 'traditional use.'" Citing "elders of the communities within the Gates of the Arctic resident zone" as well as the 1982 publication, Tracks in the Wildland, the park SRC again resolved to "clearly define ... the entire 8.4 million acres of the park/preserve as the 'traditional use area.'" [136] This proposal (Recommendation 9) was sent to the Interior Secretary on April 11, 1994; shortly afterward, SRC officials learned that the NPS—in conformance to the Interior Secretary's instructions—had indeed included a proposal for a traditional use zone study (S102) in the park's still-developing Resource Management Plan. [137]

By this time, however, various NPS officials were beginning to rethink their long-held views on subsistence policy. The various park superintendents, for example had by this time held a subsistence management conference; the park had a new superintendent, Steve Martin, who had not previously worked in Alaska; and Martin, moreover, was a key member of the ad hoc group of NPS officials that spent much of the spring and summer of 1994 conducting a thorough review of subsistence laws and regulations. Martin, analyzing the traditional use zone issue in May 1994, sent Waller a draft response note which said, in part, that "The Gates of the Arctic staff has reviewed the substantial information available on this issue. ... Initial findings support the contention that nearly all of the 8.4 million acre unit has been used for subsistence activities at least since the contact period in the mid to late 1800s by those residing in the area of the park." Martin urged that the NPS "define the terms and legislative guidance pertinent to this particular issue to ensure that research, analysis, and designation of traditional use areas is consistent for the five ['where traditional'] park areas," and he concluded that various "key criteria ... must be identified [and] be carefully considered before deciding whether each community must have exclusive areas delineated." And two months later, he prepared a five-page briefing statement on the topic; most of the statement justified his conclusion that "the Subsistence Resource Commission proposition ... is reasonable and acceptable." Key to his argument were two statements that were gleaned directly from the Congressional Record:

1) if the subsistence zone concept is to be applied to any park areas, fundamental fairness seems to require that the designation and boundaries be made by the subsistence resource commissions ... rather than park planners and researchers, and 2) that if there is any doubt as to whether subsistence hunting should be permitted within a particular area, that the decision be made on the basis that subsistence hunting should be permitted rather than restricted. [138]

Martin's views, not surprisingly, were not shared by everyone. Ray Bane, an NPS subsistence specialist, countered that "the NPS must constructively work with local residents to identify use areas and to devise a flexible and effective system for accommodating traditional subsistence uses," while Jack Hession of the Sierra Club, who defined a "traditional national park" as one that was "closed to the consumptive use of wildlife," chided the NPS for its 13°-year delay "in establishing the five new traditional parks envisioned by Congress." [139] Faced with such a strong diversity of opinion, the agency's new regional director, Robert Barbee, approved of a draft response to the SRC's recommendation saying only that "the application of [the 'where traditional'] mandate is being examined by the Department. At the conclusion of this review, the Secretary will address the Commission's concerns regarding Recommendation 9." But perhaps because the NPS made no move to finalize its draft review of subsistence policies, the Interior Secretary did not immediately respond to the SRC's recommendation. The SRC waited until May 1996—two years after its initial submittal—before it publicly questioned the delay. Regional Director Barbee, in response, politely noted that the Secretary was "currently reviewing all the comments/suggestions received." Otherwise, however, no official response was forthcoming. [140]

Caribou herd crossing a stream in northwestern Alaska. NPS (ATF, Box 13), photo #69

NPS staff addressed the traditional use zone issue, along with a number of other subsistence issues, during the review and comment period that preceded the completion of the NPS's August 1997 subsistence issues paper. Gates of the Arctic and Denali were the only SRCs that commented on the issue; both, predictably, stated that the whole park area was a traditional use zone. The NPS, in its final document, hedged on the issue; it noted that Gates of the Arctic's staff was "currently responding" to the park SRC's recommendation and that it had not yet been determined whether the Federal Subsistence Board's "customary and traditional" determinations would be used as a basis for defining traditional use areas. [141]

Shortly after the issues paper was completed, however, the agency's position as it related to traditional use zones became slightly more clear. In November 1998, for example, Wrangell-St. Elias Superintendent Jon Jarvis stated at an SRC meeting that

Jack Hession [of the Sierra Club] has been saying ... that the NPS has the responsibility to zone the park into [a] traditional park [where all hunting is prohibited] and areas that subsistence could take place. We disagree with that. Per the recommendations from [the SRC], NPS experience, and all the C&T recommendations, is that the whole park should be used for subsistence.

A similar point of view emerged at Aniakchak, where a November 1998 response to an SRC recommendation allowed qualified subsistence users to hunt and trap throughout the monument. [142]

At Gates of the Arctic, additional information relative to this issue was gathered beginning in the winter of 1997-98, when the NPS, at long last, began work on a traditional subsistence use area analysis. That study, entitled Traditional Subsistence Use Areas: Information Necessary for Making a Determination for Gates of the Arctic National Park, was presented in draft form to the SRC at its April 20-21, 1999 meeting. But the SRC, upon receiving the report, decided that the status quo was working well; it therefore passed a resolution stating that a determination of traditional use areas is unnecessary as a management action. NPS staff, for their part, also recognized the wisdom in opting not to designate traditional use zones. [143]

Three weeks after the SRC meeting, Jack Hession of the Sierra Club pressed the agency to designate these zones. A long letter to Regional Director Robert Barbee served as a petition on the topic under the Administrative Procedures Act, and Hession later stressed that "such a zoning effort is required, not discretionary." Barbee, however, disagreed. In a July 8, 1999 response, he reiterated that the Gates of the Arctic SRC "currently does not wish to work further on this issue ... and there is no immediate need to make formal designations. ... We do not agree with your conclusion," he continued, "that NPS regulations mandate formal designations of traditional use areas. ... We do not believe that there is a need to make such [traditional use zone] designations at this time, but will certainly reconsider this decision if in our judgment it becomes necessary to do so in the future." A recently completed subsistence management plan reflects the language of Barbee's July 1999 letter. The plan notes that "Title 36, Part 13, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 13.41 gives the NPS the option of designating areas 'where such uses are traditional' as a management tool, if necessary, but it remains an option and not a fundamental directive of the law or the regulation itself." [144]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003