State files suit over Federal Subsistence Board restrictions on popular hunting grounds

FILE: A herd of caribou near the water's edge.
FILE: A herd of caribou near the water's edge.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In July, the Federal Subsistence Board ordered closures of over a million acres of federal land inside of Game Management Unit 13 to non-federally qualified hunters. In other words, only rural subsistence hunters from the area will be allowed to hunt in sections “A” and “B” GMU 13.

You can read the Federal Subsistence Management Program’s full order here.

This week, the State of Alaska and the Department of Fish & Game filed an injunction against the federal government. On Friday, ADF&G Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan told KTUU that it’s the department’s belief that the board had no justification for implementing the restrictions contained in Wildlife Special Action 20-03.

“We feel they made the right decision last year, as we saw the data... and there wasn’t anything new from last year to this year.”

One portion of the complaint filed in Alaska’s District Court reads:

“In July of 2019, the Board had rejected Temporary Wildlife Special Action WAS 19-03, which requested closure of Federal public lands in Unit 13 to caribou and moose hunting by non-federally qualifed users for the 2019/20 season. WAS 19-03 was essentially the same proposal as WSA 20-03, and no new material facts were presented in 2020 the justify the Board’s change in position”

The board felt strongly enough about the issue to lengthen its effective date, through the end of the 2022 hunting season(s), “due to necessity for reasons of public safety and continuation of subsistence uses.”

According to the language of the WSA 20-03: “Those hunting under State regulations, may still travel through, camp, and hunt/trap for other species on Federal public lands within the closure area.  The closure area also remains open to all other activities such as hiking, boating, wildlife viewing, etc.”

“When they took up the public safety issue, they pretty much admitted that excluding these folks from these lands wasn’t going to do what they really wanted it to do,” Mulligan said. “Even though it’s closed to hunting, those folks can still access the area.”

KTUU reached out to Sue Detwiler, who serves as the Assistant Regional Director of the Office of Subsistence Management, within the Department of the Interior. Detwiler declined to comment on the issue, citing pending litigation.

The state’s caribou season for GMU 13 offically began on Monday. Moose season is set to begin on August 20th.

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