The State of Alaska is filing a lawsuit in federal court alleging the U.S. Office of Subsistence Management has overstepped its authority.
Over the summer, the federal agency restricted one hunting area in the Interior to only local subsistence users, citing public safety concerns. It also granted permission to the Organized Village of Kake to hunt out of season during the pandemic.
Alaska Department of Fish & Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang says the state fundamentally supports subsistence activities, but it objects to how the subsistence board is following bedrock law — namely the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which suggests the federal agency should cooperate with the state.
“In the last six months, we’ve seen a rapid diversion from that, actually going well beyond what we feel are their legal authorities,” Vincent-Lang said. “So, we thought it was the proper time to challenge those.”
This isn’t the first time the state has conflicted with the federal agency over whose hunting and fishing needs should be prioritized. The state contested a decades-long case regarding subsistence fishing rights along the Copper River.
As the pandemic played out, rural residents became increasingly concerned over disruptions to the food supply chain. The federal Office of Subsistence Management received at least six requests to hunt or fish out of season.
Vincent-Lang says the state had an agreement with the federal subsistence board. They were supposed to ask the State of Alaska if food shortages existed. A state emergency command unit determined that wasn’t an issue. However, the Office of Subsistence Management still granted Kake’s request.
Vincent-Lang thinks that wasn’t justified.
“We believe it’s time to allow the state to be the principal manager of subsistence in these areas,” he said.
Throughout the ordeal, tribal government leaders said the special action request wasn’t just about food scarcity. It was about the overall health of village elders and having access to traditional foods during a pandemic.
Kake was able to harvest up to two moose and five male Sitka black-tailed deer, which were distributed to the community.
The state is asking for the Office of Subsistence Management to immediately halt its first order and to no longer grant special hunting requests under these circumstances.