Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

L. The Federal Program (Wildlife Issues), 1993-present: General Trends

As was noted in Chapter 7, the federal government began managing subsistence resources on federal lands on July 1, 1990. On that date, responsibility for federal subsistence decision-making was entrusted to the Federal Subsistence Board. For the next two years, the State of Alaska continued to manage a series of six regional advisory councils. But on April 6, 1992, the federal government's Notice of Decision regarding subsistence management ruled that ten federally-chartered regional advisory councils would be established. Given that decision, the State of Alaska stopped funding its regional council network just two months later. For more than a year after the state councils' termination date, no regional advisory councils existed at either the state or federal level. Slowly, however, the constituent elements of a federal advisory system began to emerge. In May 1993, the Federal Subsistence Board hired the five subsistence coordinators that would be entrusted to run day-to-day regional council operations, and that August, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt officially appointed the 84 men and women that were to serve on the various regional councils. The initial meetings of the ten regional advisory councils were held between September 15 and October 20, 1993.

At the time of the first regional council meetings, the Federal Subsistence Board had been in operation for more than three years. Its members, at the time, were John M. Morehead (National Park Service), Walter O. Stieglitz (Fish and Wildlife Service), Edward Spang (Bureau of Land Management), Michael Barton (Forest Service), and Niles Cesar (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The sixth member was interim chairman Ronald McCoy, who also served as the U.S. Interior Department's Alaska Representative in an acting capacity. Richard S. Pospahala, who was the Assistant Regional Director in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Subsistence Management, provided staff support to the federal board. Pospahala had been serving in that capacity ever since the federal government had assumed management over subsistence on federal lands. Four of the six federal board representatives—Walt Stieglitz, Ed Spang, Mike Barton, and Niles Cesar—were also charter members, having run their agencies' Alaska operations since July 1990 if not before. Assisting the federal board was a five-member staff committee that was also in its fourth year of operation. Its members, at the time, were Norman Howse (Forest Service), Tom Boyd (Bureau of Land Management), John Borbridge (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Richard Pospahala (Fish and Wildlife Service), and John Hiscock (National Park Service). All except Pospahala and Hiscock had been serving on the staff committee since its inception.

By the time the first regional councils met, the Federal Subsistence Board had already established an annual schedule on how subsistence proposals would be submitted and evaluated. This process was based, to a large extent, on how the Board had been operating since 1990. The initial step in that annual schedule, the proposal solicitation, was normally announced between mid-August and early September. Soon afterward—usually in September or October—regional councils held their first meetings. (See Table 8-1, following page.) Council members, other subsistence users, agency staff and the general public were invited to these meetings in order to ensure a wide variety of subsistence proposals. The proposal deadline was shortly after the last of the fall regional advisory council meetings. Staff then spent the next several weeks evaluating those proposals before distributing them for public comment. The public was normally given six to eight weeks to weigh in on the various proposals. The regional councils then held a second series of meetings; these usually took place between late January and mid-March. At those meetings, regional council members mulled over each proposal; and based on written comments, oral testimony, and staff analyses, the proposals were either accepted, rejected, or accepted with modification. These recommendations were then forwarded to the Federal Subsistence Board, which met sometime between early April and early May and made final decisions. Those decisions were then published as regulations in the Federal Register. Unless subject to appeal, they were implemented on July 1.

Table 8-1. Federal Subsistence Hunting Regulations Chronology, 1993-present

For Regulatory Year Proposed Rule Published Fall RAC Meetings Proposal Deadline No. of Proposals Dist. of Props. to Public Comment Period Deadline Winter RAC Meetings FSB Decision Meeting Final Regs. Pub'd in Fed. Reg.
1994-19959/2/939/15/93-10/20/93 11/1/938811/15/931/14/941/25/94-3/4/94 4/11/94-4/15/946/3/94
1995-19969/2/9410/3/94-11/4/94 11/11/946912/1/941/13/951/30/95-3/3/95 4/10/95-4/14/956/15/95
1996-19978/15/959/11/95-10/18/95 10/27/956711/17/951/26/962/8/96-3/19/96 4/29/96-5/3/967/30/96@
1997-19988/7/969/9/96-10/25/96 11/8/967611/15/961/6/971/27/97-2/28/97 4/7/97-4/11/975/29/97
1998-19997/25/979/9/97-10/17/97 10/24/9710911/14/971/16/982/16/98-3/20/98 5/4/98-5/8/986/29/98
1999-20008/17/989/9/98-10/23/98 10/23/986311/13/981/8/992/22/99-3/24/99 5/3/99-5/5/997/1/99
2000-20019/10/999/28/99-10/27/99 11/5/996111/26/991/14/002/21/00-3/24/00 5/2/00-5/4/006/30/00
2001-20028/24/009/12/00-10/18/00 10/27/005011/24/001/12/012/19/01-3/23/01 4/30/01-5/2/016/25/01
2002-20038/27/019/10/01-10/19/01 10/26/014811/23/011/4/022/19/02-3/22/02 5/13/02-5/16/026/28/02

@ - The regulations cycle could not be completed by June 30, a notice in The May 23, 1996 Federal Register extending the existing regulations until July 31.

Bristol Bay Regional Advisory Council
Bristol Bay Regional Advisory Council
These photos, taken at an October 1999 Bristol Bay Regional Advisory Council meeting, show a typical subsistence advisory council meeting in action. The photo at left shows council members (left to right) Robert Heyano, Timothy Enright, Andrew Balluta, Peter Abraham, Dan O'Hara (chair) and Robin Samuelson. In the right-hand photo, Andy Aderman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service speaks before an audience that also includes OSM employee Helga Eakon (left) and Lake Clark-Katmai Superintendent Deb Liggett (back of room, wearing a vest). USF&WS (OSM)

During the regional councils' first year of operation (late 1993 and early 1994), the process that resulted in new regulations was often bumpy and unpredictable. The first series of meetings, not surprisingly, were somewhat inefficient; there was little precedence on how the meetings should be organized, and the previous, state-managed regional council system had been judged a poor model by both federal officials and subsistence users. Council members and agency staff, from both the Office of Subsistence Management as well as the individual agencies, were unsure of what roles they would play or how meeting agendas would be organized. Moreover, because few working relationships had been established—between council members and their staff, between the staff members at the various federal agencies, and between council members and the Federal Subsistence Board—there was a general lack of understanding, and in some cases, a lack of trust. Compounding these problems was a severe lack of staff and resources on the part of federal subsistence managers. A further factor clouding the picture during this period was the fact that virtually everyone involved assumed that subsistence management, due to legislative action, might revert to the State of Alaska at any time; as a result, both staff and board members tended to make decisions that, in hindsight, appeared tentative or incremental. [177]

During their first year of operation, the regional councils faced a daunting workload. Much of that workload was analyzing various subsistence hunting proposals and making recommendations about so-called "Subpart D" harvest regulations (i.e., seasons and bag limits, and harvesting methods and means). Then, as now, agency staff gave council members background reports that addressed biological capacity, historical use patterns, and similarly relevant information. But because the various parties had no history of cooperation and little familiarity with each other, as noted above, problems erupted. For instance, each proposal was given to a single agency (either the NPS or the F&WS) for analysis and recommendations. As a result, there were often inconsistencies between agencies on what these reports should contain. [178] All too often, moreover, the information that was presented in the reports reflected the agency's bias regarding subsistence harvesting. (Proposals written by NPS staff, for example, were perceived to be more conservative than those by F&WS staff.) Another problem quickly surfaced regarding data legitimacy; agency biologists often trusted only "Western science" (i.e., survey data on population trends, of which little was sometimes available) while ignoring or discounting traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and other local perspectives. [179]

Council members, confronted with such biases, did their best to fairly evaluate the various proposals. Because the federal advisory system was still new, however, regional councils occasionally disagreed with the recommendations of either agency staff or committee staff; these disagreements were usually based on political rather than scientific factors. This generalization also held true with the Federal Subsistence Board; on the one hand, an observer at the April 1994 Board meeting reported that the regional councils "played a key role" in the Board's decisionmaking process, but on the other hand, the federal board reversed the regional councils' recommendations in some cases. [180] The regional councils, who represented subsistence users, were often philosophically and temperamentally at odds with federal board members and agency staff, who enforced and interpreted the laws and regulations. Much of this antagonism, to be sure, was merely a manifestation of the real or perceived treatment that subsistence users had received from government officials—at both the state and federal levels—in recent years. Whether the antagonism was warranted or not, it was nevertheless unmistakable, and all parties recognized that all parties needed to work together if the as-yet-untried federal council system had any chance to succeed. [181]

In addition to their work on the "Subpart D" regulations, the regional councils recognized that a large backlog of unanalyzed customary and traditional use ("C&T") determinations had built up during the three-plus years since federal assumption; sooner or later, those determinations needed analysis and recommendations. In this area, federal staff moved to lighten the councils' workload. Even before the first regional councils met, an interagency staff committee had convened to work out various problems related to C&T determinations; before long, it had developed a schedule and process for addressing the backlog of C&T requests. [182] This staff work, and a broad public recognition that the C&T backlog was being addressed at the staff level, allowed council members to concentrate on other matters. (Despite that recognition, the importance of C&T-related issues meant that some people continued to address these matters; resolution of these matters, however, were delayed for the time being.) As noted below, it would take several years for staff members to arrive at an acceptable format by which the councils would be able to recommend which specific communities were legally entitled to harvest specific wildlife species.

Table 8-2. Proposals Considered by the Federal Subsistence Board, by Region, 1993-present

Regulatory Year (FSB Mtg. Date) Region 1 (Southeast) Region 2 (Southcentral) Region 3 (Bristol Bay) Region 4 (Yukon-Kusk.) Region 5 (NW. Interior) Region 6 (Western Arctic) Region 7 (Eastern Interior) Region 8 (North Slope) Statewide STATE TOTAL
(Apr. '93)
8 2 2 2 3 1 3 1 4 63

NOTE: The numbers within the chart indicate the number of proposals affecting each region. Because many proposals affected more than one region, the sum of the proposals approved in each region may exceed the state total; also, because the FSB has deferred many proposals, the number of proposals acted upon is less than the state total. Special actions and requests for reconsideration are omitted from this table. Source: Final Rule (annual), as published in the Federal Register.

Regulatory Year (FSB Mtg. Date) Region 1 (Southeast) Region 2 (Southcentral) Region 3 (Kodiak-Aleutians) Region 4 (Bristol Bay) Region 5 (Yukon-Kusk.) Region 6 (Western Interior) Region 7 (Seward Pen.) Region 8 (Eastern Interior) Region 9 (Eastern Interior) Region 10 (North Slope) S/M* STATE TOTAL
(Apr. '94)
6 1 2 9 3 3 2 3 8 4 1 88
(Apr. '95)
4 5 2 8 2 3 8 2 7 7 0 69
(Apr. '96)
13 11 3 11 2 6 5 1 9 3 1 67
(Apr. '97)
18 37 1 14 3 9 3 3 5 2 0 102
(May '98)
18 18 4 17 2 21 7 2 9 2 0 109
(May '99)
1 22 3 11 1 4 2 1 13 1 0 63
(May '00)
2 8 3 7 1 9 4 0 3 0 1 61
(May '01)
4 8 3 7 0 12 1 0 3 2 2 49
(May '02)
12 5 4 4 2 3 5 2 2 2 1 43

* - the "S/M" column indicates either statewide proposals (S) or those that affected multiple regions (M).

Gerald Nicholia
Gerald Nicholia, from Tanana, has been a member of the Eastern Interior Regional Advisory Council since the 1990s and has been its chair since 2000. USF&WS (OSM)

By the second annual round of regional council meetings, which were held in the fall of 1994, the federal system had begun to improve. One significant improvement was that all parties tried to be as inclusive as possible. The various park and monument SRCs, as noted above, were invited to take part in the process; and Native corporations, local fish and game advisory committees, and other entities were also invited to submit proposals and testify at the various regional advisory council and Federal Subsistence Board meetings, all of which were open to public comment. Another major improvement, which was initially risky but bode well for the long-term viability of the federal program, was a change in the way that proposals were developed; instead of each agency compiling its own proposal analyses and recommendations, federal staff members, for the first time, analyzed and made staff recommendations as part of interdisciplinary teams. These teams included appropriate regional council coordinators as well as various agency staff. [183]

A third positive development was the regularity of the meeting schedule. Because meetings of the staff committee, the regional councils, and the federal board were held on a consistent, predictable schedule, the various stakeholders soon became more familiar with each other. Many of the regional council meetings were multi-day affairs that were held in small towns and villages; here, as well as in urban settings, federal staff and subsistence users increasingly learned to see other participants in the system beyond the official roles that they assumed. This budding network of professional and personal relationships allowed meetings to run more smoothly, and before long, subsistence users and agency staff alike began to understand a broader context behind their opinions and decisions. Given that increasing understanding, federal staff were more likely to approve well-justified user-generated proposals; in other cases, however, subsistence users gained an ever-greater understanding as to why federal officials had to deny certain proposals. Before long, the percentage of regional advisory council decisions that were reversed by the federal board (which was never very high to begin with) began to drop. [184] Subsistence users also began to recognize—perhaps to their surprise—that most federal officials were honestly concerned about rural residents' long-term welfare in their wildlife management reports and decisions. This perception, which was a stark contrast to attitudes that had prevailed when the state had managed subsistence resources, caused many rural residents to support the federal system and decry the state's ongoing efforts to regain subsistence management. [185]

One reason that the federal system was able to work as successfully as it did was because it was funded far better than the old state-managed system. Under the state system, as noted in Chapters 5 and 6, ADF&G's Subsistence Division "was in its heyday" in the early 1980s, but the "oil bust" that followed shortly afterward forced severe cutbacks; several of its field offices were forced to close, and the Division played an increasingly marginal role in departmental affairs as the decade wore on. [186] The state's other subsistence-related funding area was the regional advisory councils, which were part of the department's Division of Boards budget. Advisory council meetings were sporadic during the early 1980s, but in early 1985 the department hired a series of subsistence coordinators. Within months, however, the councils' travel budget was truncated, and between 1985 and 1988 all but one of the coordinator positions were eliminated. At the end of the decade the state made a renewed effort to hire subsistence coordinators and organize regional council meetings, but the state's effort was halfhearted at best. In 1992, shortly after the federal government issued its Record of Decision on its subsistence management program, the Alaska legislature eliminated all funding for the regional councils, and that June they ceased operating.

Subsistence users soon discovered, by contrast, that the federal government was willing to invest substantial resources in order to make its subsistence management program work. (See Table 8-3, facing page.) Given that level of budgetary input, the OSM seemed to be consistently capable of organizing a regular retinue of regional council meetings, federal board meetings, and staff committee meetings. The fact that most regional council meetings took place in rural settings, and the additional fact that OSM consistently had funds available for travel, per diem, and other expenses gave additional assurance to subsistence users that the federal government was fully committed to its subsistence management responsibilities.

Table 8-3. Office of Subsistence Management -Budget and Employee Strength, 1990-present

Fiscal Year Subsistence Budget ($ million) Number of OSM Employees
F&WS (total)OSM/Refuges OSM/Fisheries Monitoring


Source: Nancy Beres (Administrative Specialist, OSM), May 31, 2002 interview. Budget figures were obtained from F&WS internal documents; employment data were derived from OSM organizational charts and telephone lists. The budget figures quoted above are "before shared costs" by the F&WS's regional office; actual operating budgets, therefore, are 2-6% less. n/a = not available.

As was noted in Chapter 7, the federal assumption of subsistence management and the cessation of the state-charted regional advisory councils did not spell the end of the state involvement in federal subsistence activities. Federal officials were quick to recognize that the data and experience of the state's Subsistence Division personnel could be invaluable in furthering their own management goals, and beginning in 1990 a series of annual cooperative agreements were instituted; the federal government provided funding in exchange for data collection and the maintenance of the Division's Community Profile Database, among other tasks. These funding levels decreased each year, and by fiscal year 1995 the federal government provided less than $50,000 to support Subsistence Division programs. But soon afterward, the federal government began to allot specific funds for ADF&G liaison and staff support, and by the late 1990s more than $125,000 in annual funding assistance was being provided. A far larger economic inflow during this period was provided by specific federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, NPS, and Minerals Management Service. As the state legislature decreased its support for subsistence programs, Subsistence Division personnel came to increasingly rely on program and project support provided by the F&WS, NPS and other federal agencies. [187]

The workload that federal subsistence managers assumed during the mid-1990s remained heavy. As noted above, a major task that the regional councils and federal board faced throughout this period was eliminating the backlog of proposals to either establish new customary and traditional (C&T) use determinations or revise existing determinations. Early in the process, federal managers had hoped to research these determinations for each rural settlement and for each applicable wildlife species. That process, however, promised to be exhaustive, and staff soon recognized that such an approach might require a minimum of 25 years to complete. [188] An event at the April 1995 Federal Subsistence Board meeting, however, forced federal managers to rethink their approach toward C&T determinations. As part of a Board discussion of a proposals 43 and 44 (regarding the Seward Peninsula musk ox herd), federal board solicitor Keith Goltz read aloud a letter from Mike Anderson, a solicitor in the Department's Washington office. That letter stated, in effect, that the Board was obligated to honor the C&T recommendations of the various regional councils unless certain specified criteria had been violated. Based on the contents of that letter, federal board members overrode the NPS's recommendation regarding the musk ox proposal. They did so because it was contrary to a vote of the Seward Peninsula Regional Advisory Council and because it did not meet any of the three criteria for rejection. [189]

Sandy Rabinowitch
Since 1994, Sandy Rabinowitch has been a program manager and NPS representative to the Federal Subsistence Board's Staff Committee. NPS (AKSO)

In response to the solicitor's new interpretation, the federal board's way of handling C&T proposals dramatically changed. Instead of an exhaustive, staff-driven approach that had characterized the process prior to 1995, the various RACs took the lead and began making C&T proposals. And the federal board responded in kind. During its spring 1996 meeting, the board "for the first time ... acted on proposed regulations to the Subpart C regulations governing customary and traditional use determinations." But the proposals that were generated during this period were by no means piecemeal. Instead, several proposals asked for C&T determinations for all species within specific villages, and in some cases, C&T proposals were made for entire game management units. Given that new approach, the C&T proposal backlog disappeared. During the mid-1990s, between 60 and 90 proposals were presented to, and acted upon by, federal managers in each annual regulatory cycle. (See Tables 8-1 and 8-2, pages 218 and 219 respectively.) Some of these proposals urged a modification in C&T determinations, while others were for changes in seasons and bag limits or in methods and means of subsistence hunting. By 1998, the backlog for wildlife species had finally been eliminated. [190]

The National Park Service during this period had a mixed record of support for the federal subsistence management effort. During the 1993-1994 regulatory cycle, when the federally-chartered regional advisory councils were meeting for the first time, "official" NPS support consisted of Regional Director John M. Morehead, who served as the agency's Federal Subsistence Board representative, and John Hiscock, the agency's staff committee representative. Assisting Hiscock in the preparation of wildlife proposals were three regional office employees—Bruce Greenwood, Paul Hunter, and Clarence Summers—along with various park subsistence coordinators. In late 1994, several personnel changes were made: Robert Barbee replaced Morehead, Barbee in turn asked Deputy Regional Director Paul Anderson to assume responsibilities over the agency's subsistence program, and Sanford (Sandy) Rabinowitch replaced Hiscock. The agency's staffing level, for the time being, remained constant. That stability, however, was torn asunder in early 1996 by the dissolution of the Alaska Support Office's Subsistence Division. As noted above, Subsistence Division personnel were reassigned to one of three other divisions.

The three regional office employees assigned to federal board projects, along with virtually all other former Subsistence Division staff, were given added responsibilities by their new supervisors that were unrelated to subsistence. Rabinowitch, forced to make do with only half the staff time that he had previously enjoyed, was able to realize some efficiencies because his staff—and the park subsistence coordinators on whom he depended so heavily—were now thoroughly familiar with the proposal process. Based on their collective expertise, Rabinowitch fashioned a system whereby agency staff ranked all proposals as high, medium, or low. Proposals ranked as "high" were researched more thoroughly than those in the "medium" category; similarly, staff invested more time and effort in proposals ranked "medium" than those judged to be of low priority. [191]

With one notable exception—the October 1999 assumption of fisheries management, which will be discussed in Chapter 9—the federal subsistence management program has witnessed few major changes since the mid-1990s. The annual regulatory round has continued to follow the same general schedule that was initially established in 1993-1994, and the regional advisory councils and the Federal Subsistence Board have continued to meet on a regular, predictable basis. (Except for occasional work sessions, where no policy decisions are made, all meetings are open to the public and are announced beforehand, both in local media and via the Federal Register.) [192] Funding for the Office of Subsistence Management has remained sufficient to maintain effective oversight authority (see Table 8-3), and the various agencies supporting the federal board have also been able to consistently budget sufficient funds to maintain their roles in the subsistence program. [193] By the late 1990s, it was becoming increasingly evident that the federal subsistence program was maturing. The program, now almost ten years old, offered consistency and predictability to subsistence users and their representatives on the various regional advisory councils. Because the federal government, through its regional advisory council meetings, held public forums throughout the state twice each year, longstanding tensions between subsistence users and agency staff began to ease; in addition, staff representatives of the various federal agencies also began to trust each other to an increasing degree because the federal interagency staff committee met numerous times each year. One positive byproduct of this longtime interaction is that the number of proposals forwarded to the federal board has decreased each year since 1998. (As noted in Table 8-1, there were 109 proposals advanced for the 1998-1999 regulatory year, while only 48 proposals were submitted for the 2002-2003 regulatory year.)

Judy Gottlieb
Judy Gottlieb, an Alaska resident since the 1970s, has represented the NPS on the Federal Subsistence Board since March 1999. NPS (AKSO)

Another positive sign has been that a decreasing number of the proposals that have been submitted are deemed contentious. In recognition of that fact, Forest Service representatives on the Federal Subsistence Board's staff committee successfully lobbied for a "consent agenda." This provision, reserved for proposals that were either approved or rejected by all involved parties—the state, regional council members, and federal agency staff—was intended to streamline the federal board meetings by limiting the time that board members spent on uncontroversial proposals. Recent years, in fact, have seen an increasing number of proposals appear on the consent agenda. (The inclusion of a state ADF&G representative at the staff committee's springtime meeting, where many decisions regarding wildlife proposals are made, has further boosted the number of consent items.) A decrease in the number of overall proposals, along with an increasing percentage of proposals on the consent agenda, has made Federal Subsistence Board meetings in recent years shorter than ever before; whereas meetings during the mid-1990s had taken five days to complete, most meetings since 1998 have typically been just three days long, and both the 2001 and 2002 meetings were completed in just two days. [194]

Yet another sign that the federal program was maturing was an increase in the effectiveness of data collection and monitoring programs conducted by cooperative groups. In 1992, the Office of Subsistence Management commenced its first so-called Section 809 agreements with such entities as the Association of Village Council Presidents, in the Yukon-Kuskokwim area; the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Council of Athabaskan Tribal Governments, in interior Alaska; and the Bristol Bay Native Association. Some of these agreements, inevitably, were more successful than others, and by 1996 a new cooperative model arose, in which state Subsistence Division personnel played a major role both in designing projects and analyzing the data that had been collected by the employees of the various Native organizations. The new model was widely seen to be more cost effective and time efficient, and it also resulted in a more useful final product. [195]

At the National Park Service, one major change since the mid-1990s took place in March 1999 when Judith C. Gottlieb, the Associate Regional Director in charge of Resources, replaced Paul R. Anderson as the agency's federal board representative. Gottlieb had been an Alaska resident for more than twenty years and had been involved with subsistence issues for much of that time. Another major change was Bob Gerhard's involvement in the program beginning in the fall of 1996. Gerhard, like Gottlieb, was fully experienced on subsistence matters; he had served as superintendent of the three Northwest Alaska Areas park units, where subsistence was a major concern, and he had also spent two years as the agency's federal board staff committee representative. Otherwise, however, the program has changed little since the mid-1990s; the number of staff hours available to support the federal subsistence hunting program (both in the Alaska Support Office as well as in the parks) has not grown, and few major changes have taken place in staff support for wildlife issues. Details of the agency's support of the federal subsistence fisheries program are provided in Chapter 9.

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003