Whose wildlife

kodiak brown bear

Kodiak brown bear/Lisa Hupp, USFWS

A Wasilla big-game hunter has filed a lawsuit against the Alaska Board of Game that could cut to the heart of what the authors of the state Constitution meant when they decreed that common property resources be managed “for the maximum benefit of the people.”

Hunter Robert Cassell’s specific complaint is with the nearly 40 percent of Kodiak brown bear permits reserved for non-resident hunters.

“Taking these permits and harvesting opportunities away from Alaskans and guaranteeing them to nonresidents is contrary to the Alaska Constitution,” says the suit filed Wednesday in the Anchorage Superior Court.

On its face, the suit appears simple, but it’s not. By law, non-residents hunting brown/grizzly bears in Alaska can’t just obtain a permit and go hunting.

“A nonresident who hunts brown/grizzly bear, Dall sheep, or mountain goat must be personally accompanied by an Alaska-licensed guide or by an Alaska resident 19 years of age or older who is within the ‘second degree of kindred,'” a state law dictates.

It defines “second degree of kindred” as “a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, spouse, grandparent, grandchild, brother- or sister-in-law, son- or daughter-in-law, father- or mother-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepsister, stepbrother, stepson, or stepdaughter.”

Most non-residents who journey to Kodiak to hunt the island’s massive bears lack access to such relatives. As a result, they hire guides.

A 2014 study prepared by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Professional Hunters Association concluded that Alaska guided hunting, nearly all of which is done by non-residents, is a $78 million per year business. 

The study did not break out the value of the brown/grizzly bear hunting business, but noted that “brown/grizzly bear tags represented about 35 percent of all guided hunter tags purchased and 51 percent of all guided hunter tag revenue.”

Big bucks

The report listed 24 guides residents on Kodiak Island. Those guides depend almost entirely on non-resident hunters to support businesses the Kodiak Advisory Committee to the Boards of Fish and Game claims are worth $4.16 million per year to the Kodiak economy.

Though that might not sound like much in the financial capitals of the U.S., it is a significant amount of revenue on a 3,600-square-mile island in the Gulf of Alaska home to but 13,000 people.

The advisory committee argues the Kodiak economy needs the hunting industry.  In January, it basically outlined the state’s case against Casssell. The action came in opposition to a proposal Cassell submitted to the Game Board calling for the state to change the existing permit system to ensure 90 percent of Kodiak bear permits go to Alaska residents.

The advisory committee was against the idea.

”Changing the current 66/34 allocation will have a major economic impact on small businesses throughout Kodiak and state of Alaska and most likely eradicate the long-standing guiding tradition on Kodiak,” the committee argued before bullet-pointing the local importance of the guided hunts:

  • 185 non-resident hunts @ $22,500.00 per hunt equals an additional $4.16 million dollars infused into Alaska’s economy.
  •  Additional non-resident expenditures not accounted for include transportation, accommodations, food and drink, equipment, gifts and miscellaneous services.
  • Other tourism-related expenditures incidental to hunting also exist.
  • Non-resident expenditures are exponentially higher than that of a  self-guided resident hunt. Guided hunts have higher per hunt costs such as employees, transportation, fuel, food, equipment, permitting and advertising.

The committee also cited biological concerns, observing that “resident hunters have a higher percentage of sow harvest. Non-resident guided hunters have a higher percentage of adult boar harvest at 73 percent…. An assessment from the Department (of Fish and Game) estimates an increase in female harvest would likely result in a decrease in the number of  drawing permits available overall to the resident hunters.”

People benefits

But the Constitutional crux of the committee’s argument was this:

“The Kodiak brown bear is a ‘non-meat animal. Thus it is not managed to maximize as a
food source. Therefore, priority management is for economic and intrinsic value. ‘For the maximum benefit of the people’ should thus involve a high percentage of nonresident guided hunters which clearly maximizes the economic value of the Kodiak bear.”

What the state’s Founding Fathers meant by “maximum benefit” has never been clearly defined, but most state resources have been treated as if the term referred to “maximum economic benefit.”

No Alaskans are allowed to tap in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to get their share of the state’s oil, or take a wheelbarrow and pick ax into the Fort Knox Mine to collect some gold, or start logging in the Tanana Valley State Forest.

Fish and wildlife have, however, sometimes been treated differently even though most Alaskans don’t hunt or fish and really only benefit from a sound state economy.

The state subsistence law made local food-consumption the priority use for fish and wildlife in urban areas of the state with “urban” loosely defined so as to include areas like the Kenai Peninsula to prevent subsistence users from forcing aside commercial fishermen.

Commercial Chinook salmon fishermen were, however, banned from the Kuskokwim River of Western Alaska and the region’s most valuable resource – those Chinook – were fully allocated to the subsistence fishery.

Resident Hunters of Alaska, a group to which Cassell belongs, believes state resident hunters should get somewhat similar treatment. Attorneys for Cassell, a Matanuska-Sustina Valley dentist, argue this is in keeping with a literal interpretation of the state Constitution.

“Article 8, section 3 of the Alaska Constitution provides: ‘Whenever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife and waters are reserved to the people for common use.’ In other words, the Alaska Constitution requires the state of Alaska to reserve wildlife, including Kodiak brown bear, to the residents of Alaska for common use,” they write.

The Board of Game didn’t see it that way. It bowed to the economic argument in March and voted down the Cassell proposal 5 to 1.

The Board’s rationale for “continuing to insist on an unconstitutional allocation of resources appears to be that it has authority to allocate resources however it chooses, without regard to Constitutional limits; and that modifying the Kodiak brown bear permit allocation would have an adverse economic effect on the guiding industry, despite the fact that economic allocation is not within the Board’s statutory authority.”

But it also doesn’t appear to outside the Board’s statutory authority, which is vaguely defined. By statute, the Board is set up for the “purposes of the conservation and development of the game resources of the state.” 

What “development” means can be viewed in many ways.


















Categories: News, Outdoors

34 replies »

  1. The State does not recognize terms like “sport hunters”(this is a federal term used to identify non federal qualified subsistence users).”Trophy hunters” ( has as many definitions as people who use it). The state nor the BOG have defined “trophy hunters/hunting”.
    The State only issues a “hunting” license and offers big game tags (not trophy tags). With that being stated. The BOG and DWC do manage some game spices in areas for a more mature animals. This is only offering an “opportunity” to harvest a mature animal, but does not guarantee the harvest of a mature animal. So i don’t know why some of the commentators like to stereo type users/hunters or put them in a box such as sport hunter or trophy hunters.

    • Al,
      Let me guess those “mature” species you speak of have “nice racks” and therefore make a nice mount on the wall after the 20 K hunt…as with the sheep and moose guiding throughout the state.

      • Correct Steve. But those sought after trophies are opportunities for both resident and non resident. As a resident hunter i am just as successful as any guided non-resident. Also as a subsistence hunter, i don’t pass up large antlered, horned or hides to find a smaller animal. The issue here is what is meant by “sustainable yields for the maximum benefit of “the people.” Since “maximum” is not defined by law or regulation, so we have to defer to the dictionary definition. The court will have to determine what the definition of “maximum” is. I also believe the court will have to define what is meant by “benefit”

  2. A press release will be available soon. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter whether it is a subsistence or trophy hunt, our state constitution is clear in Article 8 what the Founders intended, for our wildlife to be managed for sustainable yields for the maximum benefit of “the people.” The people are Alaskan residents. Nonresident hunters take 60-80% of our sheep in some areas, there is a moose draw permit hunt that allocates 50% of permits to nonres, and in the case of Dr. Cassell’s lawsuit by regulation nonresident guided hunters are allocated up to 40% of all Kodiak brown bear permits. A resident can put in for over 30 years and never draw a permit, but if you’re a nonresident with $20K it’s pretty much a 100% chance of drawing, and on top of that the nonresident doesn’t even have to go through the permit process, he can just work it out with the guide for that area to do a hunt outside the permit application process.

    The system is screwed up. It isn’t at all that residents don’t like to share. Or that residents dislike guides. That has nothing to do with it. It’s just that our allocation system is flatly unconstitutional and is doing harm to resident hunting opportunities. And by the way, if someone wants to make an economic argument, see this:

    Resident hunters bring in ten times the money that nonres hunters do each year. Because we live here year round. As far as monies that go to the ADFG Division of WIldlife Conservation via license and tag fees, yes nonresidents provide 72% of that funding, but that is consistent with every other state than limits nonresidents to 10% of draw tags.

    • Maximum benifit of the people. Mark ,You said it best . By the numbers guided hunts benifit many Alaskan people to a higher degree than resident sport hunters case closed ; )

    • Mark,
      Well put…
      From the sound of the commentors, it appears most of the anonymous opinions are from the guiding industry.
      An overwhelming majority of Alaskan hunters know this system needs change.

      • Mark ect , it appears the dissenting views are from the welfare , trust fund , entitlement crew . Or just plain unwilling to comprehend/ comprimise , know it all speak for others crew ;-)…. how about supporting docs that guiding is your root of all evil concept and the majority of Alaskans know a change is needed . By the way how many Alaskans even hunt ? Especially brown bear ? Back at ya 😜

    • As an Alaskan resident and hunter who has hunted Kodiak Brown Bears, I would have to say that this is a good place to try and get some precedent set in some ways and a horrible place in other ways. Most Alaskan resident hunters cannot be put into a box like trophy hunt and Kodiak Brown Bears are solidly in the trophy box. There are a minority of Alaskan resident hunters amongst the minority of Alaskans who are hunters that ever hunt Kodiak for anything, let alone Kodiak Brown Bears. If we as residents of Alaska want to make a stand for our game as a food source brown bears are not the place, moose and caribou should be the place but since we’ve lost there at the board I guess this is worth a shot to crack the door open through other means. Even if this just gets the conversation started to where residents get a better than 60/40 split I approve, but I don’t think we should be looking to completely shut down non-resident hunting.

      • Ahh some common sense by mr O . You have obviously had enough experience and rational thought to bring light to the subject. Well said .

      • Steve O…
        Like Mark said…
        “Nonresident hunters take 60-80% of our sheep in some areas, there is a moose draw permit hunt that allocates 50% of permits to nonres, and in the case of Dr. Cassell’s lawsuit by regulation nonresident guided hunters are allocated up to 40% of all Kodiak brown bear permits…”
        Obviously this is Not just about bears…but out of state “Sport” hunters taking more of the “Resources” than we can spare while a select view guides reap the benefits and many local hunters find less and less available game to hunt (many times for food).

      • Steve,

        First we need to remember this lawsuit is about Kodiak Brown Bears and nothing more at this point. The sheep/moose/caribou fights haven’t worked out because the board sees value in non-resident hunting opportunities, and more specifically for the commercial guiding opportunities. I see this lawsuit as a way to establish legal precedent dealing with Alaskan big game animals, outside of the board of game process…that can be a good and a bad thing.

        I think in some of the areas where there is a 60-80% non-resident take has more to do with resident effort, or lack thereof, than anything else.

        To be clear, I am for more Alaskan resident hunting opportunity and less non-resident opportunity when and where it is appropriate. I do not necessarily think Kodiak Brown Bears are the animal I would stage a fight over, but I can also see the potential value in doing so.

    • I just looked up the 2019-2020 draw supplement, it shows that there were almost 50 Kodiak Brown Bear tags that were slated only for non-resident hunting with a guide that didn’t even get an application for that draw. When that happens that draw area becomes a first come first serve basis, I do not know if it is still only open to non-residents, or if those hunts are opened up to both residents and non-residents…if not then they should truly be open to any takers.

      • Steve O,
        Like Mark said…
        “every other state than limits nonresidents to 10% of draw tags.”
        If Americans from the outside want fairness then they should understand that every other state in “the Union” places a preference on In-State Hunters…
        On top of the unbalanced quotas for the commercial guiding industry…
        “the nonresident doesn’t even have to go through the permit process, he can just work it out with the guide for that area to do a hunt outside the permit application process.”
        I am really glad that Dr. Cassell is filling this lawsuit…
        Next is one for our Salmon allocation in the State!

      • So in digging some more, it looks like the Kodiak Brown Bear draw tags that are not applied for go to first come first serve, or as Mark and later Steve pointed out “the nonresident doesn’t even have to go through the permit process, he can just work it out with the guide for that area to do a hunt outside the permit application process.” From what I can tell from the undersubscribed hunts all of the other tags that are not Kodiak Brown Bear tags remain slated only to the group they were slated for originally, so for a non-resident tag it stays non-resident only but over the counter so to speak. I would have to dig further, but it looks like most if not all resident draw tags are fully subscribed. Any undersubscribed tag for non-residents should immediately become available for residents as an over the counter tag.

      • It is correct that “every other state than limits nonresidents to 10% of draw tags.” But what is not stated with that fact is. That those are “State” draw tags. Everyone of those states also issue tags to privet land owners. Those land owners can use those tags for themselves or transfer them to anyone else. In most cases they cannot be sold, but the privet land owner can charge for access on the privet property. So the idea that only 10% tags go to non-residents is misleading, it is much higher.

      • Al,
        I am curious where you get the data to support this statement:
        “Everyone of those states also issue tags to privet land owners”.
        I have friends and family in at least a half dozen states and they own private land but do not get any hunting tags to issue??
        I grew up hunting farmland in PA and several farmers were partners with our hunting club and gave out “buttons” to allow family on club managed land, but this was on top of the state hunting license that all locals (which we were) had to purchase to hunt whitetail.
        It specifically did not allow out of state hunters the ability “to jump the line” and just purchase a club pass.
        All members of the club were PA residents and waited years for a chance at membership.
        Here in AK things are “ass backwards” as they say and need to protect the resources for future generations of Alaskans who choose to call this place home.

      • i got the information from fish and game departments, mainly western states. these land owner receive tags form the division of agriculture for compensation for corp damage. I never checked about eastern states.

  3. I believe with confidence, our founding fathers were very clear concerning “ the maximum benefit of the people” to clarify that these resources belong to the public, not the government. It has nothing to do with resident vs. non-resident allocation.

    • Except that it’s not a public versus government issue. It’s an ecosystem issue.

      The Alaska public is one big, human ecosystem. The question then becomes one of what use of the resource provides the greatest benefit to that ecosystem – not just the minority of human predators in the ecosystem.

      • Perfect. Trophy hunters can present an impressive portfolio at that level of debate.
        Trophy hunters limited to as you pointed out a ” Minority of human predators in the ecosystem” have proven their sustainability in Alaska for over 100 years. I can’t think of another interested group of wildlife users who offer limiting their own use of the ecosystem but willing to pay for wildlife management. Trophy hunters have been and are still willing to pay whatever to allow them as a minority of users to continue doing so.
        Tell me what other users groups are will to give of their minority protection for less than 10% of the harvestable surplus of game in Alaska?

        Maybe time to play the minority protection card for trophy hunters. Or let resident hunters beat up non-resident hunters and stop being able to pay for management.
        Then let the fossil fuel industry pay an offshore development tax to fund non-minority of human hunters wildlife management (minus any game division) on all the ecosystems from sea to shine sea.

  4. There is a reason the founders of our Constitution worked so hard to make Alaska a state where residents would not be “Trumped” by outside intrest.
    Today as the competition for resources increases, these protections are needed more than ever.
    This case may set an important precedent (Think Salmon Allocation)….
    I for one see too many Trophy moose and bear go to the highest paying clients (from the outside) while many locals must look to grocery stores for their food on government subsidies.

    • Outside interests, as in citizens of the USA actually share in the ownership of over 60% of Alaska. Federal lands are for all to share the public resources, not just Alaskan residents to feel entitled too.
      And as for comparing the commercial fishing industry, that harvests over 98% of all the public resource of fish and game, with non-resident hunters that’s nonsense.

      • Well AK Outdoor…
        Your weak defense may hold more weight IF this was just an issue with other Americans getting our resources (in regards to both fish and game)…
        The reality is many out of state Trophy hunters are from Europe and many travel as far as the UAE to kill these moose and bear around our cabins and land.
        Just like with our Salmon it is a Globalist market that is draining AK of its natural wealth and big game guiding is one industry where “the heads” go to those with the $20,000 to spend on their trip (regardless of their citizenship).

    • “while many locals must look to grocery stores for their food on government subsidies.”
      Will the res “hunters” give up their EBT cards if they can kill a moose or Caribou or the permit quota changed?

  5. What is it with these “few” highly skilled, elite, rich, Alaskan residents who don’t like sharing?
    Non-residents hunters have come to the aid of all Alaskan hunters for decades. Not just by contributing 75% of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation annual funding, but by helping to fund campaigns to oppose anti-hunting voter initiatives, support pro hunting candidates in the state elections, and suing the federal govermement when they infringe on state wildlife management authority.
    Divide and conquer just what the anti-hunters love to see happen, just so a few Alaskan big game trophy residents can shoot more brown bear on Kodiak Island.
    That makes no sense.

  6. The State of Alaska has reserved 60% + of brown bear permits for the residents of Alaska. Non-residents contribute $4 + million to the residents of Alaska. The state does what the constitution allows. Case closed!

    • Hey Bryan,
      The $4M is just the economic benefit to the guides on Kodiak. How many of these non-res hunters also turn their hunting trip into a vacation in other parts of the state? How many dollars are brought into the state from all of the other non-res hunters that employ guides to hunt in areas besides Kodiak? I’m willing to bet that it’s a much larger chunk of $ than the $4M that is brought into Kodiak (although the economic impact there is huge for it’s small population). I would say that 185 hunts in Kodiak bring more of the ‘maximum benefit of the people’ of Alaska than does having a couple more dentists and lawyers in Anchorage or the valley be able to jump into their SuperCubs and do a self-guided wabbit hunt. Pumping fuel into the economic engine of the state is, for me, worth much more than a bear rug… Then again, I don’t hunt bears!

      • Jack, I don’t hunt brown either. But, there is additional rev passed down the line: taxidermy fees, fuels costs, plane lease, provisions, guides spending the money year round, etc.. I am going to say that most non-res hunters that pay upwards of $25,000/brown, $15,000 moose/goat are going for large, mature, trophy males. I also am going to say who the he11 pays that kind of chedda to kill a “cow” feeding on sedge? But, with an over-abundance of bears and the outrageous costs to kill one, I think it is a win-win for the state. That money is fused back into the local economy in many forms.

      • Bryan,
        As an Alaskan resident hunter, I say – Damn straight.
        Cheers man!

  7. At some point total exclusion of outsiders will, or should, bump up against the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps there’s a hot shot L48 lawyer/bear hunter that will remind the guy that he’s still living in America.

    • Great informative article! Sounds like board of game made a sound decision and this particular hunter cassell is greedy and has an ax to grind . He probably dislikes guides and is jealous. Lots and lots of other places to hunt brown bear . Kodiakers and Alaskans have a right to self sustaining economy so they stay off welfare . That’s part of what those permits represent to many guides . Basically subsistence. Kodiak bears are very carefully managed and is a rare success. Anyone familiar with hunt regs can quickly see hunting for non residents is very constricted and heavily biased towards residents as it should be . The difference is Kodiak bear is rarely a preferred hunt for Alaskan subsistence hunters or even Alaskan hunters in general . Its rarely eaten for food . It’s soley sport which is pretty low priority . Cassel knows this and just has it out for guides . Alaska hasn’t done best job of guide use area management. It puts a lot of stress on local areas and resident hunters when they bump heads . That’s probably cassell real problem.

      • Not many other places to bag a kodiak brown bear tho.
        This could shape up to be battle royale,beyond just the island.

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