Arctic adviser: Rigid regs worsen climate change impacts

Craig Fleener, Arctic policy adviser, addresses the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society at Juneau's Centennial Hall on Wedensday. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
Craig Fleener, Gov. Walker’s Arctic policy adviser, addresses the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society at Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wedensday. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Alaska communities could better adjust to climate change if hunting and fishing rules become more flexible.

Craig Fleener, Gov. Bill Walker’s special assistant on Arctic policy, says northern Native peoples had the ability to adapt before western-style government took over.

“A thousand years ago, if the caribou didn’t come, you killed a moose. If the caribou that should have come to your community three weeks ago, two weeks ago, one week ago, today, weren’t there, well, you harvested them next week,” he says.

Fleener says more regulations defining seasons and bag limits need to be adaptable.

“We don’t do it enough. It’s very tough, especially with the rigid management structures that we have. But I think that’s something we really have to focus on. And I think at some point in time, we all have to come together and talk about how we’re going to continue to adapt to the changes that are around us,” he says.

Fleener made his comments to the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, which is holding its annual convention in Juneau this week.

Fleener is Gwich’in Athabascan from Fort Yukon. He’s a former deputy commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. He also was Walker’s running mate before his independent campaign merged with Democrat Byron Mallott’s.

Fleener urged tribal and other representatives at the convention to educate themselves about Arctic issues.

The United States this year took over chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an eight-nation coalition. Fleener says that’s good. But decisions about the region should be made by the people who live there.

“We need to have a voice. Alaska really has not had a voice on the international front when it comes to decision-making at the Arctic Council,” he says.

The council does include representatives of northern indigenous groups. Fleener, for example, has chaired a council of Gwich’ins from Alaska and Canada.

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