Rod- Arno- Public Policy Director
The current land grab in Alaska is a matter of “who” gets to manage and more importantly, allocate fish and game on federal lands/waters in Alaska, just over 60% of the state. It’s a management authority grab from the state this time. Only Alaska’s Congressional delegation can stop the takeover now.
The U.S. Congress gave the State of Alaska the authority to manage fish and game, Alaska Statehood Act, back in 1959. Before the federal land managers in Alaska were the sole managers of fish and game on all of Alaska (except rare parcels of private lands not amounting to 1% of the state before 1959).
Now the Feds want that authority back.
Ten years after the Alaska Statehood Act the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 which fragmented the State of Alaska into three parcels of land; around 103 million acres to the State, 44 million to Alaska Native corporations, Village corporations for their private property, while keeping +200 million acres for the U.S. Secretary’s of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture to control use of. Another 10 years after that, in 1980 Congress further fragmented land use by putting 30% of their lands into Conservation System Units (CSU) where no lands/waters are to be encumbered by human development. All development would have to go around the 30% of federal lands in CSUs in Alaska.
The notion that Alaska had already given its 30% to conservation back in 1980 didn’t last long when BLM successfully got its Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) incorporated in their Eastern Interior Resources Management Plans (RMP) in the Fortymile ACEA in 2015. BLM said the state was not managing Dall sheep and caribou habitat on 685,000 acres of their land adequately under federal regulations. ACECs are conservation designations that overwhelmingly limit some form of use or time and length of use on BLM lands under the banner of “Conversation”. ACECs put Alaska over the top of their share having already haven given 30% for the conservation of all federal lands back with the passage of ANILCA. Even for years now, the number of ACEC requests has grown, some in areas of the state currently open for BLM RMP updating. Adopted ACECs essentially say the state cannot adequately manage the public resource on these federal public lands so the feds are taking it over. At least until the state can adequately do the job? Unlike CSU established by Congress when they passed ANILCA, ACEC lands can be withdrawn from their conservation status should the state choose to manage those lands, like the BLM wants them to.
In the Central Yukon RMP stretching from Delta Junction up to Prudhoe Bay and over to the village of Kaltag in the west, the BLM manages 13 million acres. Nominations for 4.75 million acres, over a third of BLM lands in the Central Yukon RMP planning area, to be managed as ACECs were received in the planning process. All +70 million acres of BLM in Alaska would most likely meet the BLM criteria of 1) being relevant and 1) being an important wildlife habitat over time if not stopped.
And if that’s not concerning enough to outdoor folks there is Biden’s Executive Order EO 14008, “Tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad”. Which calls for many things besides withdrawing 30% of all federal lands into Conservation System Units (CSU) nationwide.
Spawned out of that order are initiatives like the Gravel to Gravel Keystone Initiative which will it says bring tribes and federal agencies together in a new co-stewardship project for the Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Norton Sound region. That’s around 265,000,000 of the state.
What does Co-Stewardship entail? Does the state have a role in this new land management regime? How about the public who are not members of any tribe? Or non-locals?
Currently, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is leading this initiative. Maybe our Alaska Congressional delegation should be asked what it means.
Then there is the Conservation and Restoring America the Beautiful campaign led by U.S. Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and the Council on Environmental Quality to implement EO 14008. Through the America the Beautiful Challenge they have granted the village of Holy Cross Tribe $1.2 million to develop an Ancestral Homelands Tribal Conservation District in the Bering Sea Interior. The release says they will achieve co-management between 38 Alaska Tribes and federal agencies to improve the management of federal public lands.
Another question for Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is what’s the difference between co-stewardship and co-management
And again, where do the state, non-tribal, and non-locals fit in the public process of federal land use?
The new “Land-grab” is about “who” gets to manage and allocate publicly owned fish and game on federal public lands in Alaska.
Dual management including allocation authority of migrating species like fish (salmon) and game (caribou) has not worked out since the beginning of when the federal law ANILCA was first implemented, only in Alaska.
The authority grab could further be complicated (State of Alaska v. New land et a. ) should 44 million acres of Alaska Native lands, fragmented across the state, be transferred to Alaska Native Lands into Trust with the federal government. Would these once private lands managed by the State then fall under the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) authority? The state could end up with only 25% of the state to regulate fish and game harvest on.
A lot is at stake for Alaskans who choose to participate in outdoor activities on federal public lands. The Alaska Outdoor Council participates in the rulemaking process speaking on behalf of its membership’s purpose (posted on the AOC website) to access and enjoy public lands responsibly.
It’s time for AOC members to recruit outdoor folks who spend valuable time on federal Public land, and ask them to join AOC so their interests are heard.