At the end of January, three Hoonah students traveled to Anchorage to take part in the Federal Subsistence Board meeting and learn more about how harvesting laws are made and how the public can get involved. There were also two proposals to change fishing and deer hunting regulations around Hoonah on the table, neither of which were passed.
Not Your Average Classroom
The federal subsistence board is made of representatives from the five land-owning federal agencies in Alaska (the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs) as well as three elected members of the public. Together the group makes decisions regarding subsistence harvest for both urban and rural users throughout the state, driven by guidance from regional advisory committees and public testimony from local residents.
The students were participating in UAS’s dual-enrollment Biology Practicum course, which lets them earn college credits, travel, and be in the room where it happens all at the same time. Abby Stevenson, Emily Hurtado, and Rosanna Lackey had the chance to witness in person how the federal representatives heard from regional advisory councils, the State, and local hunters and interest groups to make decisions. Despite some of the controversial proposals on the table (including the deer harvest proposal near Hoonah), the students were all surprised by how civil people managed to keep the conversations and were moved by both the emotional testimony and humorous moments. While the process can be somewhat dry and difficult to follow, all three students learned about subsistence harvest throughout the state, networked with federal employees and gained hands-on policy experience (and got to go to Olive Garden!).
No Changes to Neva Lake Fishing Regulations…
Current rules allow for qualified subsistence users (like Hoonah residents) to take ten sockeye per day from Neva Lake and bans urbans fishers from taking sockeye. Non-salmon fish may still be harvested by anyone with a subsistence permit. The Southeast Alaska Regional Advisory Council voted to continue the closure of the area to non-qualified subsistence users due to low escapement of salmon and concerns about the population not being large enough to support sport fishing.
Despite opposition from the State, the subsistence board is maintaining the status quo, and no changes are being made to the fisheries closure.
Or Deer Hunting Rules
The other Hoonah-related proposal on the table was to drop the bag limit for Non-Federally Qualified Subsistence Users (such as hunters coming from Juneau) on Northeast Chichagof. The current rule allows for all hunters, Hoonah based as well as those from off the island, to take 6 deer between August 1st and January 31st. The proposal was to drop the limit to 2 male deer for urban hunters, while leaving the limit for rural hunters the same.
The state’s argument was that deer populations near Hoonah have never been better and the population isn’t threatened by current hunting levels. They also said most urban hunters harvest less than two deer anyway, so dropping the bag limit wouldn’t make much of a different. A video summarizing population trends and hunting rates from ADF&G is available here.
Despite ADF&G’s report that there are plenty of deer to go around, many Hoonah hunters have expressed concerns about being able to get the deer they need to keep food on the table. Many Hoonah hunters only report their successful hunts, which can cause the state to underestimate hunter efforts and assume that Hoonah hunters are getting a deer every time they go out. In order to get a better understanding of competition and scarcity, HIA is partnering with the Forest Service to conduct deer surveys in Hoonah, Angoon, Gustavus, Pelican and Tenakee. If you’re interested in being interviewed, please contact Ian Johnson (email@example.com, 218-298-1531) to sign up for a time slot!
Because of the evidence from the state, the proposal did not pass, and hunting regulations are still the same as they were. For all of the technical information related to the proposal, the meeting materials are available here.
All federal subsistence board meetings are open to the public, even if you don’t want to travel to Anchorage. The next Federal Subsistence Board meeting will be in April 2024 and everyone is welcome to call in to offer testimony and hear for themselves how the process works. The Southeast Regional Advisory Council will next be meeting from February 28 to March 2nd in Juneau.