State Asks Interior Secretary Jewell to Intervene in Subsistence Board’s Caribou Hunting Closure Decision
- ADF&G Press Release

Sam Cotten, Commissioner
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, Alaska 99811-5526

Press Release: June 24, 2016

Contact: Lem Butler, Assistant Director, Juneau, (907) 465-4191

State Asks Interior Secretary Jewell to Intervene in Subsistence Board’s Caribou Hunting Closure Decision

(Juneau) — The State of Alaska has appealed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with a request that the Department of Interior immediately review and address a recent decision by the Federal Subsistence Board to close caribou hunting on federal public lands in Game Management Unit 23 to all but federally qualified users. The State has also asked that the Interior Department review administrative procedures that implement and retain federal closures in cases where no biological concern exists and to resolve the lack of administrative process available for reconsidering Wildlife Special Actions decisions when new information is provided.

In a letter dated June 22, 2016, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten asked for the Interior Secretary’s aid in reversing the federal board’s April 18, 2016 decision to adopt Wildlife Special Action 16-01. Under the decision, caribou hunting on federal lands in GMU 23 will close to all but federally qualified subsistence users effective July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Federal lands comprise 80 percent of GMU 23.

The board approved the regulations based on testimony from affected Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) that federally qualified subsistence users are having difficulty meeting their subsistence needs and that added pressure from hunters who are not federally qualified subsistence users is having negative effects on the Western Arctic caribou herd and subsistence uses. Only two RACs supported the proposed action, while another was opposed and a fourth abstained.

Cotten’s appeal to Secretary Jewell follows a similar request made last month to the Federal Subsistence Board. In a letter dated May 25, 2016, Cotten asked that the board reconsider the closure because it is not consistent with management strategies recommended in the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Cooperative Management Plan. He added that new information from the department upgrading the herd’s population status should also be considered. The updated herd estimate of 206,000 caribou is based on data indicating survival and reproduction rates have improved and that the herd has stabilized or declined only slightly. The board has not addressed that request.

In his June letter to Jewell, Cotten states that the board described the hunting closure as a conservation measure needed until a new population estimate could be obtained, despite information presented by the federal Office of Subsistence Management that the record lacked evidence to sustain a closure decision. Further, Cotten wrote, the decision does not meet the closure criteria identified in ANILCA, Title VIII, and making caribou off limits to hunters who are not federally qualified subsistence users will have no conservation effect.

"Swift action by (the Department of the Interior) is needed,” Cotten wrote, “to remedy the social and economic hardships imposed by this decision before the caribou season in Unit 23 opens.”

The Western Arctic caribou herd is Alaska’s largest caribou herd. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group's Cooperative Management Plan recommends the herd be managed for a “conservative” harvest of 14,000 to 18,550 animals when numbers range between 200,000 and 265,000. Under the plan, hunting restrictions such as those imposed by the Federal Subsistence Board in April would not be considered until herd estimates fall between 130,000 and 200,000. The board has in the past agreed to respect the recommendations contained in the management plan.

Federally-qualified subsistence users in GMU 23 harvest an estimated 11,400 caribou from the herd annually, while hunters who are not federally-qualified subsistence users harvest approximately 600 caribou.