The Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) is currently considering a Special Action Request (WSA 21-01) that would close over 40 million acres of public lands in Northern Alaska to non-resident and non-local caribou hunters. Wildlife Special Actions are supposed to be used in “unusual circumstances,” when an unforeseen conservation need has arisen. In situations where a resource conservation need requires the FSB to prioritize the subsistence needs of those living in remote Alaska over sport hunters, SCI does not object to necessary closures. However, the proposal to close Game Management Units 23 and 26A—an area larger than the State of Georgia—to non-subsistence caribou hunting does not cite any scientific evidence or data.
SCI submitted public comments early on and was one of the first groups/organizations to provide testimony at a public hearing on April 23, 2021, requesting that the FSB reject the proposal. These comments explain that while SCI supports subsistence use of natural resources, the status of the caribou herds on GMUs 23 and 26A does not require the restriction of non-subsistence hunting to protect subsistence use. Although the migration pattern or timing of the caribou herds in these GMUs may have shifted, years of data indicate that herd numbers are stable and well above state management objectives. The Western Arctic herd is estimated at 244,000 animals, and the Teshekpuk Herd at 56,000. The subsistence harvest of these caribou has also remained stable at 10,000 to 15,000 caribou. The harvest by non-subsistence hunters is only approximately 300 caribou per year (2 to 3 % of the total harvest).
SCI’s comments also pointed out that the standard for adoption of a Wildlife Special Action requires evidence of unanticipated biological or conservation needs. To temporarily close public lands under a special action, the FSB must determine that the proposed change is not an unnecessary restriction on non-subsistence users. In this case, the proposed closure is not supported by evidence of an unusual situation, or a significant change in resource abundance, so the restriction on non-subsistence users is unnecessary.
The FSB scheduled a hearing on April 23, 2021 to take public input on the proposal. SCI immediately informed our members of the hearing and comment opportunities. SCI then engaged with members by asking them to sign a petition demanding the Biden Administration commit to a policy of “No-Net-Loss” on federal public lands for hunting and fishing access. SCI is asking that the Department of the Interior maintain the same hunting and fishing access on public lands that was provided under prior administrations—including significant acreage opened under the Trump Administration. More than 2,200 sportsmen and women across the country have signed SCI’s petition. But Secretary Haaland still has not committed to “No Net Loss.”
Postscript: SCI members who have not yet registered for alerts from the Hunter Advocacy Alert Center should text SCI to 73075; or visit safariclub.org/hunter-advocacy-action-center and sign up today.–Barbara Crown, Hunter Information Service Liaison