October 2016

A portion of the Wrangell-St. Elias Subsistence Resource Commission meets to discuss upcoming wildlife regulations.
Members of the Wrangell-St. Elias Subsistence Resource Commission meet to discuss subsistence issues at their October 2016 meeting in Copper Center.

NPS photo

Disclaimer: These minutes of the Subsistence Resource Commission for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park are NOT an official transcript of the Commission proceedings. Rather, the minutes serve as a summary of the topics discussed and actions taken by the Commission and as an index to the audio recording of the meeting. The official record of the Commission proceedings is the audio recording.

October 11-12, 2016
Copper Center, Alaska

1. Call to order: SRC Chair Karen Linnell called the meeting to order at 9:19 AM.

2. SRC roll call and confirmation of quorum:
Present: Karen Linnell, Secretary of the Interior Appointee; Gloria Stickwan, Southcentral RAC Appointee; Dan Stevens, Secretary of the Interior Appointee; Sue Entsminger, Eastern Interior RAC Appointee; Don Horrell, Governor Appointee; Suzanne McCarthy, Governor Appointee; and Robert Fithian, Governor’s Appointee.
Absent: Raymond Sensmeier, Southeast RAC Appointee.

A quorum of the members was present.

3. Introduction of Commission members, staff, and guests:
Commission members: Karen Linnell, Gloria Stickwan, Dan Stevens, Sue Entsminger, Don Horrell, Robert Fithian, and Suzanne McCarthy.
NPS staff: Barbara Cellarius, Cultural Anthropologist/ Subsistence Specialist; Bruce Rogers, Park Planner; Morgan Gantz, Wilderness Specialist and Planner; Deborah Coble, AKRO Subsistence; Stephens Harper, South District Ranger; Ben Bobowski, Superintendent; Judy Putera, Wildlife Biologist; Jamie Hart, South District Interpreter; Greg Biddle, Acting Chief of Resources; Dave Sarafin, Fisheries Biologist; Glenn Hart, Education Specialist; Clarence Summers, AKRO Subsistence; Mike Townsend, North District Interpreter; Katie Moser, Interpreter.
Guests (including those arriving later and those on the phone): Lynn Grams (NPCA), Mark Sommerville (ADF&G Glennallen), Russel Scribner, Brad Henspeter, David Person (Chugach National Forest), Deanna Perry (SE RAC Coordinator), Jim Hannah, Jesse Hankins (BLM GFO), Paul Rude (CRNA), Becky Schwanke, Tom Geyer, and Richard Jepsen.

4. Housekeeping announcements: Barbara Cellarius asked those attending to sign the sign-in sheet and explained the plans for lunch.

5. Review and adoption of agenda: Don Horrell stated that the Copper Basin Advisory Committee was meeting at 5 PM today and he needs to leave by 4:30 PM. He would also like to cover the Copper Basin community harvest proposal before the SRC recesses for the day. The primary reason for a special meeting of the AC is to address community harvest and also the harvest and possession limits for grouse are also a concern. Motion by Bob Fithian to adopt the agenda as discussed, seconded by Don Horrell. The motion carried.

6. Review and approval of minutes from February 24-25, 2016, meeting: Motion to approve the minutes by Dan Stevens, seconded by Suzanne McCarthy. Motion carries.

7. Welcome by local community: Kathy McConkey provided a local welcome on behalf of the Native Village of Kluti-Kaah. The community has a long history of use of the national park and resources there. They have received game through the community hunt, but the hunt hasn’t been very successful for their tribal members. Fishing was also not very successful this year. The fish and wildlife resources sustain people and are healthier than store-bought food. Kathy also spoke about a mapping project that Faye Ewan is working on, mapping where people were in the 1950s, before people moved to Copper Center because of schools.

8. Superintendent's welcome and review of the Commission purpose: Superintendent Ben Bobowski welcomed everyone to the meeting, thanked the SRC members for volunteering their time, and reviewed the commission purpose.

9. Commission membership status: Barbara Cellarius reviewed the commission membership status. Ray Sensmeier was appointed in March to fill the SE RAC seat. We are waiting on an appointment by the Secretary to fill the seat vacated by Don Welty.

Term Expires:
Karen Linnell Secretary of Interior Appointee 12/2017
Vacant Secretary of Interior Appointee ----
Dan Stevens Secretary of Interior Appointee 12/2017
Robert Fithian Governor Appointee 11/2017
Suzanne McCarthy Governor Appointee 11/2018
Don Horrell Governor Appointee 11/2018
Gloria Stickwan Southcentral RAC Appointee 11/2017
Sue Entsminger Eastern Interior RAC Appointee 11/2018
Ray Sensmeier Southeast RAC Appointee 3/2019

10. Chair’s report: Karen Linnell reported that she had participated in a couple of teleconferences planning for the SRC Chairs Workshop scheduled for November 29, 2016, in Anchorage. The chairs have been meeting by teleconference more frequently; however, it was only her and some of the coordinators on the last teleconference. She asked that SRC members let her know if there are issues they would like to have brought forward to the chairs workshop.

11. Superintendent’s report: Superintendent Ben Bobowski introduced himself and reported that Eric Veach had moved on to Kenai Fjords National Park as that park’s new Superintendent. There is a continuing resolution providing funding currently, and we expect that a federal budget will be passed after the election. Staff will be providing reports as we move through the meeting.

12. Old business
a. Update on backcountry and wilderness stewardship planning: Bruce Rogers provided an update on the Backcountry and Wilderness Stewardship Plan, explaining that he would focus on three topics – the area covered by plan, the planning process, and how the plan touches subsistence. In terms of the area covered by the plan, backcountry is remote in terms of access – a visitor would need to fly there or take a motorboat. Backcountry does not include places you can drive to or the Mt. Drum frontcountry where there is interspersed Ahtna land. The lands referred to as backcountry are included in the plan because they are big chunks of country for which we are trying to provide guidance. It is not a new administrative designation. There are differences in what is being proposed for backcountry versus designated wilderness. In terms of subsistence use, there is some use in the Black Mountain area and at the head of the Kotsina. But beyond that, subsistence use of the planning area is limited. Maybe 5 percent of use in plan area is related to subsistence use.

In terms of planning process, the proposed action – what NPS intended to do – was put out for public review in May. This was an extra step in the process in order to give the public an additional opportunity to see what the plan would do. Comments were accepted through the end of August. Staff are in the process of reviewing the comments and making changes based on the comments. The revised proposed action will roll into the draft environmental assessment, which will also include alternatives to the proposed action, the legal framework and the affected environment. The draft EA will then go out for public review, hopefully this coming spring.

The planning team is starting to look at changes, based on the comments received. There were a lot of comments on the zones, including how confusing they were. In the current draft, the number of zones has gone from nine to four -- designated wilderness, nonwilderness, Chisana/Gold Hill zone, and Donaho Basin zone. Another comment concerned the huge areas in the zones and a need to be more responsive to problem areas. Based on that, we are working on identifying portal areas with more concentrated impacts and targeting management actions to those areas. There were also a lot of comments regarding confusion about the desired condition statements. The plan is going to be redone to focus on visitor expectations rather than terms from the Wilderness Act such as untrammeled and natural. We will also be clarifying things related to airstrip and cabin maintenance. There are more than 200 airstrips in the park. We are not proposing to close airstrips. The list in the plan is a list of where NPS maintenance would occur. A pilot could land and do limited maintenance. That wouldn’t change. There would be no change to the management of subsistence cabins. Subsistence off-road vehicle (ORV) use in the Black Mountain area would be managed consistent with the ORV EIS. For the rest of the wilderness planning area (mostly at the head of the Kotsina), we are proposing to monitor the situation. If we see that the footprint of the trail network is growing, we would designate trails with an allowance for game retrieval. For backcountry, ORV use there would be no change. There would also be no change to subsistence snowmachine use. Subsistence firewood harvest would see no change from the current park-wide permit for chainsaw use. In general, actions are phased in based on monitoring. We would only move towards more aggressive management when monitoring points to that. Based in part on the SRC working group’s input, management actions that affect subsistence users would only occur as the last phase. Phased in management actions would first apply to commercial operators and other private users. In response to a question, Bruce clarified that subsistence users can go off of designated trails in wilderness when the ground is frozen.

Bob Fithian expressed concern about the management of guide cabins and in particular that they would revert to public use upon the transfer of the concession. Bruce explained that the park has a policy which provides that existing guide cabins are grandfathered in, but that if the concession changes hands, the cabin would go to non-exclusive use. This is not something that is being proposed as part of the plan. It is letting an existing superintendent’s policy play out. NPS Alaska cabin regulations do not provide for exclusive use of cabins in wilderness for commercial purposes. Bob followed up with a question about cases in which a concession is transferred within a family.

Karen Linnell expressed concern about including non-wilderness in the plan and suggested that those areas – for example the Chisana area or McCarthy area – could be covered in a separate plan.

Sue Entsminger asked whether anything in the plan would develop into regulations. Bruce explained that some decisions made in the plan might require regulations change, but other things like increased trail maintenance or education wouldn’t need a regulation change.

Several questions were raised regarding the estimate that about 5 percent of the use of the planning area is for subsistence use. Did it really capture all of the subsistence use? Many local people aren’t captured by visits to the visitor center. Bruce explained that 5 percent was an estimate based on visitor-use records.

In response to a question about the ability of public comments to affect the final outcome, Bruce explained that you can affect change if the change is something that can be considered within legal sideboards. He has been involved in numerous planning efforts. Public comment can make a difference.

Another issue raised was the references in the plan to NPS policy. Karen Linnell expressed concern about a lack of public input into policy changes. Bob Fithian stated that there may be policies protecting our way of life, so we need to be careful about what we ask for. Bruce stated that he did not want to create false expectations – Chapter 1 of the EA can’t be drafted without some discussion of policy.

b. Trails Update: Barbara Cellarius provided an update on recent trails work. The Copper Lake Trail was the major project of the season, including construction of re-routed segments to bypass degraded wetland areas and installation of synthetic surface matting on segments of the original alignment. Several trails were brushed and cleared of windfall including the Crystalline Hills Trail, Dixie Pass Trail (to the third creek crossing), Kotsina Trail (from the Dixie Pass Trailhead to Mile 15), the Nugget Creek Trail, the Soda Lake Re-Route, and the Caribou Creek Trail. Additionally, major tread repairs were completed on the Soda Lake Re-Route, and a Student Conservation Association youth crew as well as National Public Lands Day volunteers repaired or hardened about 1400 feet of the Caribou Creek Trail. The park will be receiving project funding in FY2017 for improvements on the Kotsina Trail.

In response to a question about when the Copper Lake Trail project would be done, Greg Biddle explained that the current funding would run out at the end of the calendar year, but there is a potential that additional money would be available to finish up the work. The park is also still working on access issues with private property at the end of the trail. In terms of the work on the Soda Lake Reroute, there were bad mud holes, places where the geoblock didn’t have enough of a gravel cap, and some blind curves that were widened.

c. Compendium update: Stephens Harper began by explaining that the compendium is a written compilation of designations, closures, permit requirements and other restrictions imposed under discretionary authority found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). A park committee with representatives from different divisions discusses whether there were any issues that need to be addressed in the compendium each year. This year no proposed changes were identified. Karen Linnell express concern about things going from the compendium into proposed rules and also about the lack of opportunity for the SRC to comment during the compendium comment period.

In terms of earlier compendia, Stephens reminded the SRC that pack goats and sheep were prohibited a couple of years ago and last year’s compendium proposed adding animals in the camel and bovidae families to this prohibition. Comments were received regarding being able to use those species as long as those animals not diseased. The compendium was modified to allow the use of animals in those families upon provision of a health certificate from veterinarian. The original idea was that the health certificate would be valid for 30 days, but in response to comments that that was too short, it was decided to allow extensions of a health certificate beyond 30 days on a case by case basis. In response to a question, Stephens explained that there are no examples of disease transmission between bovidae or camelids and wildlife, but biologists believe that it is possible. Coming up next year, we anticipate a compendium change to close a degraded portion of the Copper Lake Trail, once the reroutes around those degraded sections are completed.

Citing the history of hunting guides sharing meat with local residents, Bob Fithian suggested a modification of the Jarvis policy to allow the continued exclusive use of guide cabins. Perhaps the cabins could be used by the public outside of hunting season. Stephens stated that there is a provision of ANILCA that allows for temporary facilities used for taking of fish and wildlife. Kelly Vrem built a temporary storage shed next to the cabin he uses. He takes his property out of the cabin and puts it in the storage shed. Then the cabin can be used by the public. The Lakina River is washing away the airstrip Kelly uses, and he may need to move his base of operations. With the storage shed, this move will be easier.

d. Report on actions at April 2016 Federal Subsistence Board meeting: Barbara Cellarius briefed the SRC on action by the Federal Subsistence Board at its April 2016 on proposals to change wildlife regulations in the Wrangell-St. Elias area. For Southeast Alaska, the board rejected WP16-03 to revise the designated hunter possession limit for goat in Units 1-5, adopted WP16-04 to change the moose harvest limit in Units 1C and 5B by removing the word antler, adopted WP16-06 to define the boundaries of Nunatak Bench in Unit 5, and adopted WP16-07 to allow the use of firearms to harvest beaver under trapping regulations in Units 1-5 with modification clarifying that this does not apply to NPS-managed lands. The SRC’s proposal (WP16-18) to allow the use of bait to harvest brown bears in Units 11 and 12 was adopted. WP16-20 to modify the harvest limit for Dall sheep in Unit 11 was adopted with the SRC recommended modification to restrict the harvest to rams without a specific horn restriction. WP16-60 remove the 804 closure for the Chisana caribou herd hunt was adopted, consistent with the SRC recommendation. WP16-67 to change the season, harvest limit and harvest means for beaver trapping in Units 12 and 20E was adopted, consistent with the SRC recommendation. And finally, WP16-68 to change the season and harvest limit for lynx trapping in Units 12 and 20E as adopted, consistent with the SRC recommendation.

e. NPS proposed rule on subsistence collections: Barbara Cellarius provided an update on the NPS proposed regulation package on subsistence collections. On January 13, 2016, the NPS published a draft regulation package in the Federal Register. The subsistence collections provisions of the draft rule were published in response to requests from Subsistence Resource Commissions and Regional Advisory Councils and would allow the collection and use of nonedible fish and wildlife parts (including shed or discarded horns, antlers, claws, teeth, feathers) and plant materials for making handicrafts which could be used, bartered, or sold. The draft rule also proposed clarifying that collecting or possessing living wildlife is generally prohibited and limiting the types of bait that may be used to take bears for subsistence uses. Approximately 30 comments were received on the draft rule during the 90-day public comment period that closed on April 12, 2016, and work on drafting the final rule is underway. It is often the case with regulatory proposals that changes are made in the final rule based on comments received. It is unlikely that the final rule will be published before the end of 2016, but we anticipate that it will be published and the regulations would be in effect sometime next spring.

SRC members expressed a variety of concerns related to the proposed rule. The SRC should be notified about all 810s. The addition of the bear baiting provisions to the subsistence collections 810 was questioned; there should have been a separate 810 for that topic. Adding the bear bait definition and provisions about collecting live wildlife to the proposed rule on subsistence collections is a source of frustration. The definition of bait should have gone through the Federal Subsistence Board. NPS failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act.

Karen Linnell suggested that the SRC write a letter to the Secretary of the Interior about proposed rules and 810 analyses. The additional provisions shouldn’t have been added to the proposed rule and also should have been addressed in a separate 810. There should have been public notice and a public hearing. Sue Entsminger made a motion to send a letter to the Secretary of the Interior about the inclusion of the bear baiting and live wildlife collection provisions in the subsistence collections proposed rule and also about the questions that are asked in an 810 analysis. The 810 analysis looks at three questions -- the number and redistribution of resources, subsistence access, and competition for subsistence resources. But the bear baiting provisions do affect us. Don Horrell seconded the motion. Suzanne McCarthy referenced the response to their last letter. When they asked for copies of SRC minutes, suggesting that they be available on-line, the intent was for other SRCs, while the response focused on WRST SRC minutes. The SRC meets twice a year and we don’t always remember the final outcome. Our minutes would also be of value to other SRCs as well. There was consensus to add this to the letter. Karen asked that this issue also be added to the SRC report for the SRC Chairs Workshop. Gloria suggested adding to the letter that they appreciated the response from Director Jarvis. The motion to write the letter carried.

f. Draft Nonrural Determination Policy: Barbara Cellarius provided background on and an overview of the draft Nonrural Determination Policy. The list of criteria and review every 10 years have been eliminated. Sue Entsminger made a motion to support the policy with the addition of deference to the RACs. The motion was seconded by Suzanne McCarthy and the motion passed.

g. Revised Draft MOU between Federal Subsistence Board & State of Alaska: Barbara Cellarius provided an overview of the revised draft MOU. Bob Fithian expressed concern about #2 under Guiding Principles, stating that authority remains with individual land managers. He believes that the authority for wildlife management remains with the State of Alaska. Karen Linnell noted that they have talked about individual land managers submitting proposed rules rather than going through the Federal Subsistence Board. That concerns her; it usurps the purpose of the Board. Wildlife regulations should be set by the Federal Subsistence Board and the Alaska Board of Game, not by the NPS or BLM or the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Gloria Stickwan added the need to follow the Administrative Procedures Act and follow a public process. If agencies are going to make changes, they need to notify public. Sue Entsminger spoke to the importance of having abundance to provide for subsistence needs, which might mean seasons and bag limits that allow for more abundance.

Motion by Suzanne McCarthy to write a letter to the NPS Regional Director expressing grave concerns about Paragraph 2 under Guiding Principles regarding the authority of individual land managers, the need to follow administrative procedures when things change, and the need to provide abundance to meet subsistence needs. The letter should be copied to the RACs. Don Horrell seconded the motion and the motion passed.

h. Wrangell-St. Elias Subsistence Plan update/discussion: Barbara Cellarius explained that pages to update their subsistence plans were provided to SRC members and are available to staff and others who have copies of the plan. The meeting packet also includes a list of what the park is doing on various topics they identified as important for research and monitoring.

Karen Linnell expressed concern about the potential for something similar to the situation with low salmon returns on the Yukon and Kuskokwim happening here. More information about spawning needs to be gathered, especially upstream. Suzanne McCarthy suggested coming up with a prioritized list of research topics, adding that perhaps some of the information they are interested in has already been gathered and asking how to get reports from research is being done.

With respect to fisheries research, Dave Sarafin explained that reports from projects funded by the Office of Subsistence Management are sent there. He could provide copies. For other salmon research, state research is available through the ADF&G website. Dave is not aware of discussions regarding the impacts to salmon from the high water that washed out banks three years ago. With regard to priority information needs Karen Linnell mentioned a Chitina check station to gather in-season data on salmon harvests by dip netters. Don Horrell spoke about impact to local businesses from sport fishing closure to king salmon.

Suzanne McCarthy raised the topic of climate change and said that there is some suspicion that changing conditions are impacting salmon. She asked how to bring these concerns to the attention of researchers, including students who are often looking for topics. Karen Linnell suggested Todd Brinkman at UAF as someone who connects graduate students with research projects. She also said that if the SRC sets priorities, then different pockets of funding could be pursued, both statewide and nationally. Recognizing that money is tight, we need to look at ways to partner.

The SRC identified the following as their top priorities for research and monitoring:

  • Salmon – escapement to spawning beds

  • Sheep – what is causing population decline

  • Mentasta and Chisana caribou herds – what is causing decline, how can we improve herd populations

  • Bear – populations and densities

Another issue discussed was an interest in getting copies of research and monitoring reports. In some cases, it is possible to make these available on a website. In other cases, it might work better to send the reports.

13. New Business
a. Review of proposals to change federal subsistence fisheries regulations
FP17-11: Request C&T determination for salmon for residents of Dry Creek in the Glennallen sub-district of the upper Copper River.
After presentation of the proposal by Barbara Cellarius, two residents of Dry Creek spoke to the proposal. Richard Jepsen explained that Dry Creek is a permanent community. Residents don’t go outside for rotation or sabbatical, and it is not the kind of missionary community where people rotate in and out. He has lived there since 1982 and has harvested and eaten Copper River salmon on a regular basis. The proposal was submitted by the Dry Creek community corporation, which represents all community members, including non-mission members. They place where they are fishing now, near Chitina, has become hazardous. Tommy Geyer addressed comments about not passing traditions down to children. Each year he brings two to three young people from Dry Creek with him to help process fish.

Karen Linnell expressed concern about supporting the proposal, explaining that many of us have friends who get state permits to fish in the Copper River – their communities could similarly apply for a C&T. Gloria Stickwan stated that the decision on this C&T proposal should be based on the pattern of use. We have heard public testimony that they have passed this down and has been using it. Based on the 8 criteria, they do meet the criteria.

Dan Stevens made a motion to support proposal FB17-11, seconded by Sue Entsminger. The OSM staff analysis, supplemented by testimony by members of the Dry Creek community, demonstrate a long-term customary and traditional pattern of use of salmon by Dry Creek residents in the Glennallen Subdistrict of the Upper Copper River. The Commission heard testimony from Dry Creek residents that a few young people are specifically included in the group traveling each year to the Copper River to harvest salmon in order to hand down fishing knowledge and traditions to the next generation. The SRC’s purpose is to protect subsistence uses and access and that is part of the decision to support this proposal.

b. Alaska Board of Game meeting on Copper Basin Community Subsistence Hunts. Barbara Cellarius read a request from Ahtna regarding the Copper Basin community hunts. SRC discussion included whether the rules for the community hunt are being followed (e.g., sharing, not hunting moose or caribou elsewhere), the continued growth of participation in the hunt following the lawsuit to allow additional groups without an increase in the any-bull quota, the lack of eligibility evaluation of the new groups, and the possible use of check stations to monitor harvests and address abuse. The hunt worked well the first year, when it was limited to the Ahtna communities, but now it is up to 73 groups. Ahtna was asking for some kind of emergency action for the 2016 hunt, which did not happen. Don Horrell reported from the AC meeting that Michelle Anderson from Ahtna said that they would like to get rid of the community hunt and would like the Board to come to the basin for a meeting with local stakeholders. Sue Entsminger made a motion to write a letter to the Board of Game recommending that the community subsistence hunt be scrapped and asking that the board or a subcommittee there of hold a meeting in the most affected area to discuss alternatives. The community hunt is not working. Don Horrell seconded the motion and the motion was approved.

c. Review of proposals to the Alaska Board of Game
Proposal 84: Lengthen the trapping season for wolf in Units 12 and 20E. Motion by Sue Entsminger to support the proposal as written, seconded by Don Horrell. The motion passed. Aligning the state and federal season dates for wolf trapping in Units 12 and 20E will provide additional trapping opportunity and reduce the potential for confusion.

Proposal 89: Change the antler restrictions for moose in a portion of Unit 12. Sue Entsminger noted that this proposal does not affect federal land and suggested taking no action.

Proposal 90: Expand the Copper Basin community subsistence harvest hunt area by adding a part of Unit 12. Motion to adopt the proposal by Sue Entsminger, seconded by Don Horrell. The motion failed. The Commission is concerned about the potential for increased hunting pressure in Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve that could result from this expansion. Additionally, the community hunt is not working. The SRC recommends discontinuing the community hunt and starting discussions with stakeholders in the Copper Basin about alternatives to it.

Proposal 91: Modify the hunting season and bag limits for grouse in Unit 12. After Barbara Cellarius presented the proposal South District Ranger Stephens Harper spoke about grouse harvests in the park, especially along the McCarthy Road. The rangers and troopers have worked to reduce illegal harvests, however, that hasn’t done anything to reduce overall harvest levels given the current harvest and possession limits of 15 per day and 30 in possession. These high limits are an incentive for people to come out from Anchorage and harvest their limits. Motion by Don Horrell to support the proposal without the proposed changes to the season dates, seconded by Suzanne McCarthy. The motion passed. For several years, the SRC has been hearing about groups of hunters taking advantage of the current liberal bag limits and harvesting large numbers of grouse within Wrangell-St. Elias. We are concerned about the potential for these high harvest levels to impact the grouse populations, and believe that reducing the harvest and possession limits would help to address this issue. With regard to the proposed modification, some local residents harvest grouse in the winter, and the Commission feels that it is important to maintain that opportunity.

d. Special Action Request for sheep in Unit 11. Sue Entsminger explained that she had gotten a call from someone in Tok who wanted to put in a proposal to allow the use of designated hunters for sheep. Sue referred her to Barbara. The woman didn’t end up talking to Barbara, but she did submit an emergency special action request. The next thing Sue heard was a letter rejecting the request. As an SRC member and chair of the Eastern Interior RAC, she is concerned that she didn’t hear about the proposal as it was being evaluated. This is a pretty significant change for a special action, especially with statewide concern about sheep populations. With the turnover at OSM, the new RAC coordinator didn’t realize that a proposal for sheep in Unit 11 would be of concern to the EI RAC, but Gloria also heard about the request from Barbara and not OSM. If Barbara hadn’t gotten involved, the special action request might have been approved. Gloria also expressed concern that the proposal was not brought before the RAC in the affected area. Sue Entsminger made a motion to send a letter to the Federal Subsistence Board expressing concerns about the process used to address special action requests. Proposals considered as emergency special actions should be truly emergency in nature, not simply a matter of preference, and whenever possible, SRCs and RACs in the affected area should be involved in evaluating special action requests, at least through consultation with the relevant RAC or SRC chairs. Don Horrell seconded the motion, and the motion was approved.

14. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve staff reports
a. Resource and visitor protection update: South District Ranger Stephens Harper provided an overview of the ranger division structure and staffing. The division had a number of vacancies last year, but most of them have now been filled. Search and rescue, emergency medical services and law enforcement are the main focus of the division. The rangers do a lot of education on NPS regulations. Typically there are lots of medical responses in McCarthy. Hunting season went well, although several sublegal rams were harvested. They are trying to get the word out about where people can and cannot sport hunt.

b. Interpretation and education update: Glenn Hart provided an overview of visitation to Wrangell-St. Elias. Outside of the May to September season, visitation drops off significantly. The overall trend is increasing visitation. Interpretation is front line for information in the NPS. Which visitor contact stations are open changes from year to year. Switching to education programs, the park has programs that cover all grades, from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We receive a lot of assistance from park partners. A couple of examples are the Copper River Stewardship Program, during which 13 high school students got a first-hand look at resources on a Chitina-to-Cordova raft trip, and a winter camp for junior high school students called Chosen Frozen. In addition, youth employment programs include the Youth Conservation Corps, the Student Conservation Association, and the Youth Partnership Program that provides funding to Ahtna Heritage Foundation to hire summer interns at the Ahtna Cultural Center. About 400 students each year participate in some kind of park program.

c. Update regarding SRC member travel: Chief of Administration Ann Crowe provided an update on SRC member travel. In the past, we have been able to use a government charge card to pay for SRC member lodging. As of two months ago, we are no longer able to do that. Possible alternatives include a declining balance charge card, using a purchase order with the hotel, or SRC members pay up front and get reimbursed. There is also an option for travel advances, but that requires more paperwork than the declining balance card. We hope to have this figured out for the next SRC meeting.

d. Resource division update: Greg Biddle explained that Eric Veach is now the superintendent at Kenai Fjords National Park. Greg has been the acting chief of resources for more than a year. Refilling the position requires reclassifying the position in addition to the hiring process, all of which can take some time. There is exciting cultural resource news. We found a dated site in the park that shows people were here 10,000 years ago. It is off the Copper Lake Trail near where Tanada and Copper lakes used to come together. We also found tools this summer that look 8 to 10,000 years old; however we don’t have the ability to directly date those tools.

e. Wildlife report: Judy Putera explained that her written report includes information from sheep surveys done in GMU 12 this summer, working with ADF&G out of Tok. Compared to previous surveys, the total numbers are stable to increasing and lamb-to-ewe rations are similarly stable to increasing. ADF&G in Glennallen was not able to count sheep in Unit 11 this summer. NPS has started to use a distance sampling technique to measure sheep abundance. WRST has selected count areas 3 and 4W (Black Mountain to Cross Creek) to use this technique. Compared to a similar survey done in 2010, this year’s survey showed an increase in the total number of sheep in the area. Compared to minimum counts, this methodology estimates how many are missing and gives us confidence interval. NPS plan to keep doing this in that area for next several years.

The park is also doing a Dall sheep research project looking at ram energetics, survival, and disbursal. Another collaborator is looking at modeling snow depth and icing in same area as sheep project. Those data will be used to build a model for looking at climate change, snowfall and icing events. Other wildlife projects planned for the coming fall and winter include a big geospatial moose population survey in Unit 11, typically done every three years, and a wolf population survey in the range of the Chisana caribou herd. We have tried to do the latter for the last couple of years, but snow conditions and other things have gotten in the way. The composition count for the Chisana caribou herd was just completed – we will have the results from that at the next meeting. We are also trying to put out additional collars on the Chisana caribou herd. The fieldwork has been completed for the project looking at habitat and winter diet for the Chisana herd and now the data need to be analyzed.

Looking at the table summarizing federal subsistence permits, SRC members made observations about declines in the number of people hunting in Unit 11 and also harvest numbers. Barbara explained that the 2016 harvest and participation data were preliminary – not all of the harvest reports have been received. Also with regard to moose hunting in Unit 11, since 2012 the Unit 11 moose permit is for Unit 11 remainder. It does not cover the area along and off of the Nabesna Road that is covered by the joint state-federal permit. Some hunters may be getting that joint state-federal permit, rather than the federal permit. SRC members requested adding the joint state-federal moose permit for portions of Unit 11-12 (RM291) to the table.

f. Fisheries report: Dave Sarafin explained that Molly had retired in May and reported on the Tanada Creek and Long Lake weirs. The Tanada Creek weir was installed on June 2, the first fish was counted on June 27. The final count was 13,790 sockeye and 2 chinook. The water was extremely low in the early season, so low that salmon couldn’t enter creek until rains in late June. Dave suspects that in low water years the salmon might to elsewhere, and he is interested in investigating. The Long Lake weir is located at mile 45 on the McCarthy Road. The weir was installed July 26th and being taken down today. First fish passed through on August 26. There was a record low count of 212 sockeye and no coho. Staff record water depth and temperature each day. He also provided a summary of federal subsistence fishing permits issued at four park locations plus at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. 319 Glennallen Subdistrict and 126 Chitina Subdistrict permits were issued as of September 29. No permits were issued for the Batzulnetas area this year. Harvest data will be provided at the spring meeting.

This year the park started work on a 4-year project to collect baseline data on burbot populations in small lakes in the upper Yukon draining. The plan is to visit one lake each year, starting this year with Beaver Lake near Chisana. Next year plans include the two weirs, the upper Yukon burbot project, a reassessment of the burbot population in Grizzly Lake and a kokanee genetics project. If time and money allow other work would include continuing work the freshwater fish inventory and more genetic work in Copper Lake.

g. Subsistence coordinator’s report: Barbara Cellarius noted that her written report is included in the same handout as the wildlife report. She recently learned that ADF&G Division of Subsistence has been able to digitize the maps from earlier harvest surveys. It is GIS data that can be downloaded from the department’s website. Digitizing these data was requested by the SRC. With the Chisana caribou herd, the federal board recently removed the 804 restriction on eligibility for the hunt, which means that everyone with C&T for caribou in Unit 12 is eligible for the hunt. For 2016, the harvest quota was the same as previous years, 7 bulls, and 8 permits were issued. The harvest reports are still coming in, but thus far everyone who has reported did hunt and one caribou was harvested. In May, a local rural resident applied for a new subsistence cabin permit, to use an existing structure. Consistent with the cabin regulations a public notice of the permit request was published. The permit was issued in July. It authorizes shared subsistence use during the fall hunting season (August-September) and exclusive use during trapping season. As you know, the park has been working with ADF&G on harvest surveys. Final touches are being put on Northway report, and it will be available at next meeting. We are working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks on an ethnographic overview and assessment that focuses on small-scale miners, hunting guides, trappers, and homesteaders It is based primarily on existing literature and interviews, however several new oral history interviews have also been completed for the project. As an outgrowth of those interviews, a paper was presented at the Alaska Historical Association conference on the involvement of Alaska Natives in guided sport hunting.

15. Public and other agency comments: Jesse Hankins introduced himself. He is the new wildlife biologist at BLM, having arrived in last December. He provided a report on federal moose and caribou harvests in Unit 13. More permits were issued this year than in years past. Moose harvest has also been higher. About half of the people who get permits try to hunt. Moving on to caribou, the second season is coming up. The early season harvest was lower than in past years. BLM is considering extending the federal season sometime between October 1 and October 21. They had received calls from the community about this when the state extended its season. Don Horrell expressed concern about opening the caribou season during the breeding period when the younger bulls would be very strong. Many people have trouble taking a cow. Jesse explained that those concerns had been raised with their special action request, adding that caribou had not yet shown up on federal lands. BLM’s special action request to extend the season has been approved, but they are waiting to see if the caribou move onto federal lands. In response to a question about the caribou season on Tetlin NWR, Sue Entsminger explained that she had gotten a call from the refuge manager about a special action request to increase the harvest limit for caribou there from one to two.

  1. Draft proposal to change C&T for sheep in Unit 12. Barbara Cellarius explained that Bob Medinger of Slana wants to let the SRC know that he intends to submit a proposal to the Federal Subsistence Board to recognize Slana as having a positive customary and traditional use determination for sheep in Unit 12. A copy of the draft proposal is included in the meeting materials. He also wanted to pass on concerns about ever increasing hunting pressure on the Nabesna Road corridor, which is making things difficult for subsistence hunters.

16. Letter of recommendation to Governor and Secretary. Don Horrell made a motion to send a letter to the Governor asking that the Alaska Board of Game, or a representative thereof, come to a local meeting to discuss the impacts of the community hunt and possible alternatives to it. Sue Entsminger seconded the motion, and the motion passed.

17. Work Session: Karen Linnell noted that most of the needed letters had been addressed as they moved through the meeting agenda and asked the SRC whether they would like to meet quarterly. Doing so would address comment periods that fall between meetings and also help the SRC members keep up with things that are going on. Meeting more often could help increase the efficiency of the SRC. Discussion included the cost and time involved in holding additional regular meetings. Perhaps working groups are an alternative way for SRC members to stay on top of developments, and special meetings could be organized when there was a need to comment between regular meetings. No decision was made to increase the frequency of regularly scheduled meetings. Instead most SRC members supported holding working group meetings and special meetings on an as-needed basis. For example, they asked to be kept in the loop on developments regarding the Backcountry and Wilderness Stewardship Plan.

The SRC asked that the following items be added to their report for the SRC Chairs Workshop: Concession cabins, putting minutes from all SRCs up on a website, and consultation with SRCs on emergency special actions.

18. Set tentative date and location for next SRC meeting: After reviewing the winter/spring RAC meeting schedule, the SRC selected March 1-2 as the date for its next meeting, with March 8-9 as alternative. Mentasta was identified as the tentative meeting location, with Kenny Lake as an alternative.

19. Adjourn meeting: Motion to adjourn the meeting by Don Horrell, seconded by Sue Entsminger. The meeting adjourned at 3:35 p.m.

Approved by the SRC on March 1, 2017, in Mentasta Lake, Alaska.

Last updated: May 9, 2017