Local leaders testify in D.C. about subsistence

by Angela Denning-Barnes on September 23, 2013

Gene Peltola Jr. and Ana Hoffman both of Bethel testified in a subsistence hearing in Washington D. C. last week. The hearing was through the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee which oversees ANCSA and ANILCA, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Act. The hearing touched on the state and federal dual management system in Alaska. Peltola testified with the Office of Subsistence Management and as the former Manager of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

“Subsistence management in Alaska is not an exact science,” Peltola says. “It’s not perfect and it is very complex.”

He says Natives in Alaska have relied on subsistence foods for thousands of years.

“We must balance the differing mandates and policies of the parties involved, yet remain true to our charge of providing for the continued subsistence use by local rural residents,” Peltola says.

Ana Hoffman was speaking to the committee as the President of the Bethel Native Corporation.

“The closest word in Yup’ik for subsistence is “nerrangnaqsaraput”, our method of gathering food,” Hoffman says.

Hoffman told council about a recent moose hunting trip that her family took.

“The length of the Kuskokwim that we traveled from Bethel to Mcgrath required one general harvest tag 13 years ago. Today, it requires four,” Hoffman says.

She says the Yup’ik people go to great lengths to follow the hunting and fishing rules and restrictions. She says subsistence food harvests in Alaska represent just over one percent of the fish and game harvested while the commercial fisheries harvest over 98 percent.

“What we see happening often times is achieving the amount needed for subsistence is not known until we are subsisting,” Hoffman says. “As a result, the subsistence user whose cultural, social, economic and physically livelihood is at stake, is baring the brunt of conservation.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski is on the committee. She said it had been about 40 years since the last subsistence hearing in the energy and natural resources committee and this one was long overdue. She thanked the members for participating.

“I know that this is a very state specific issue and the fact that we are holding this as part of a full committee I think is indicative of your willingness to recognize the high priorities that are assigned in specific states, the high priority that we see as it relates to the issue of subsistence issue in Alaska,” Murkowski says.

The committee planned to hold a work session later when Murkowski said she hoped they could continue working on the subsistence issue. She asked if there were any specific suggestions that they could advance or move administratively through the regulatory process.

“I want to try to explore some areas where we can improve the issue of management at all levels,” Murkowski says. “And I understand that that requires just greater discussion, greater dialogue, greater commitment to be working with one another rather than our very siloed world which I think is where we are.”

Craig Fleener, Alaska’s Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game testified on behalf of the state. He talked about the state’s desire to help manage resources on federal lands and the need for the federal government to make more funding available for subsistence management.

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