The state fish and wildlife agencies have a long history of working in close partnership with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to deliver on-the-ground fish and wildlife conservation for our citizens under the auspices of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Strong cooperative working relationships between state fish and wildlife agencies and the USFWS are essential for maintaining successful conservation and management efforts across the nation. This cooperative approach to conservation and management, when given full opportunity to work, has historically lead to effective and durable decisions regarding fish and wildlife in a manner that is respectful of state and federal authorities.
Given this valued cooperative relationship between state fish and wildlife agencies and the USFWS, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (Association) is disappointed in the final ruling for Alaska’s national wildlife refuges (NWRs) for non-subsistence take on wildlife and closure regulations recently issued by USFWS. We respectfully conveyed our concerns throughout the rule development process and continue to view this rule as flawed relative to the legal framework for wildlife management authority on NWRs in Alaska. We find that implementation of this rule will have significant implications for wildlife management, native Alaskan cultural values, non-subsistence use, and subsistence use for rural Alaskans. The Association’s most serious concern with the rule is that it compromises state authority to manage fish and wildlife on Alaska NWRs.
The Association is particularly disappointed that the USFWS issued a Final Rule when it and other conservation organizations, including the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council (a Federal Advisory Committee) as well as the State of Alaska, recommended continuing dialogue between the Alaska Game and Fish Department and the USFWS, to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution of the authorities issue. Instead, we are left with heightened state-federal tension in managing Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources both for her citizens and the citizens of the United States. We believe the recommendation for further dialogue to negotiate agreement between the State of Alaska and USFWS is reasonable and prudent and better assures consistency with applicable federal and state laws.
Moreover, the Association is troubled by the insensitive way this final rule was rolled out both to the State of Alaska and to the many conservation organizations who supported Alaska’s position. We are hopeful that we in the conservation community, including the USFWS, can find ways to move forward that will foster stronger cooperation and mutual respect and support. At times, maintaining strong cooperative relationships requires time and effort to negotiate through disagreements to find workable compromise, and we believe this important issue in Alaska was certainly worthy of more time and effort.