Ultimate fish war

A Kuskokwim River fishermen with a king salmon/Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

What the federal government has against guys like Oscar Evon is hard to figure out, but it must be something.

Who you ask is Oscar Evon?

Evon is the director of regional affairs for the Anchorage-based Coastal Villages Region Fund, and he was one of the many defendants in court in Bethel a decade ago after the state of Alaska closed king salmon fishing in the Kuskokwim River to protect the struggling run of big fish.

Some fishermen along the more than 700-mile-long river that flows south-southwest through the state’s midsection from the glacier on the north side of the Alaska Range to Bering Sea protested the closure by ignoring it. 

Those who joined in kept fishing, were cited and ended up before Alaska District Court Judge Fred Ward in the community of Bethel. Among them was Evon, an Alaska Native who grew up in the remote village of Kwigillingok where his then 84-year-old father was still living.

But in 2009, Evon revealed at trial, he’d left rural Alaska, as many do, for work in the state’s largest vity and biggest Native community. Anchorage is, according to Alaska Department of Labor data, home to nearly 23,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians, most of them in the former group. 

In Anchorage, Yupik, Inupiat and Chugach Eskimos live peaceably alongside Athabascan, Tlingit and Haida Indians amid one of the country’s most diverse mixes of whites, Asians, blacks, Latinos and the more than 7 percent who classify themselves as multiracial.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has now sued the state of Alaska to take over management of fishing on the Kuskokwim to stop any of these people, including Evon, from fishing the river though few would if the state continued to manage the salmon there.

For someone living in Anchorage, it is a whole lot cheaper to drive 160 miles south to the Kenai River or 250 miles east to the Copper River to net a winter’s supply of fish.  As Evon told Judge Ward, getting to Kwigillingok from Anchorage to fish is expensive.

“It’s not like we go fishing with six gallons of gas down(river) from Bethel,” he told the judge.

Decidedly not. There was in 2012 a $450 round trip airfare to Bethel with another $350 for a ticket to Kwigillinok and back. Then there was the 40 gallons of gas for the boat to run across Kuskokwim Bay to an upriver sit where the Evons have traditionally fished.

At 2012 prices in rural Alaska, Evon figured the gas cost $300. It’s a lot more expensive now.

If not for the family connections, it made little sense for Evon to travel all the way to Kwigillinok to subsistence fish salmon in 2012, and it would make even less sense in the current economic times.

So why is the federal government trying to prevent Evon or any other Anchorage resident from fishing the Kusko? One word: “Urban.”

Alaska’s great divide

Since the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980, there have been two kinds of Alaskans under federal law: urban Alaskans and rural Alaskans. 

ANILCA stipulates that the latter are to be given a priority when it comes to the harvest of fish and wildlife. Specifically, the law says this:

“…The taking on public lands of fish and wildlife for nonwasteful subsistence uses shall be accorded priority over the taking on such lands of fish and wildlife for other purposes. Whenever it is necessary to restrict the taking of populations of fish and wildlife on
such lands for subsistence uses in order to protect the continued viability of such populations, or to continue such uses, such priority shall be implemented through appropriate limitations based on the application of the following criteria:

“(1) customary and direct dependence upon the populations as the mainstay of livelihood;
“(2) local residency; and
“(3) the availability of alternative resources.”

The law was well-intentioned when written and intended to protect the small number of people living off the land four decades ago with the population of rural Alaska small and only beginning to transition from a subsistence economy to a cash economy.

The state tried to follow the federal lead and similarly divide Alaskans, but a lawsuit filed against a rural-urban state law argued it was illegally discriminatory under the terms of the state constitution. The challenge, what is now widely called the McDowell Decision, reached the Alaska Supreme Court in 1989.

“Appellants’ basic objection to the 1986 act is that by excluding from eligibility as subsistence users all urban dwellers and by including all rural dwellers, the act unfairly excludes some urban residents who have lived a subsistence lifestyle and desire to continue to do so, while needlessly including numerous rural residents who have not engaged in subsistence hunting and fishing,” in an opinion overturning any sort of preference based on residency the justices wrote.  “Appellants claim, in other words, that the urban/rural criterion is both unfairly under-inclusive, because it excludes deserving urban residents, and over-inclusive, because it includes undeserving rural residents. Appellants instead suggest that the right to subsistence should depend upon individual needs and traditions, not on one’s place of residence.

“The record supports the appellants’ claim that there are substantial numbers of urban subsistence users. A state study of subsistence use patterns found that of some 255 holders of subsistence salmon permits for the 1980 Tanana River fishery, approximately 20 percent exhibited the attributes commonly associated with a traditional subsistence lifestyle, even though they all resided in the urban Fairbanks area.”

Evon would be representative of one such urban individual connected to a traditional lifestyle in Alaska today.

The state justices in 1989 went to some length to describe the inherently discriminatory nature of the urban-rural separation, noting that a study of fish and wildlife use found more than 38 percent of the residents of Homer, an urban-designated community at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, obtain at least half of their meat and fish supply by hunting or fishing, while in Sitka, a Southeast Alaska community designated rural and granted a priority, 26 percent of households did no hunting and 7 percent did no fishing.

“We therefore conclude that the requirement contained in the 1986 subsistence statute, that one must reside in a rural area in order to participate in subsistence hunting and fishing, violates sections 3, 15, and 17 of article VIII of the Alaska Constitution,” they wrote in summary.

“The conclusion we have reached does not mean that everyone can engage in subsistence hunting or fishing. We do not imply that the constitution bars all methods of exclusion where exclusion is required for species protection reasons. We hold only that the residency criterion used in the 1986 act which conclusively excludes all urban residents from subsistence hunting and fishing regardless of their individual characteristics is unconstitutional.”

The state position, as dictated by the state’s highest court, did not sit well with federal officials who believed it violated the intent of Congress in establishing a rural-only priority, and the Department of the Interior seized the authority to manage wildlife on 222 million acres of federal land in Alaska, or about two-thirds of the state, in 1990.

A bit of chaos ensued, although the takeover of hunting on federal lands wasn’t as big a deal as it appeared. Much of the 222 million acres owned by the federal government is comprised of mountain tops, glaciers, and national parks.

The Alaska Statehood Act allowed for the selection of about 104 million acres by the state, and much of that land is in the road-accessible parts of the state where most of the hunting and fishing by urban residents has traditionally taken place.

Plus the state, like the other states, owns the water and was given ownership of the beds of navigable rivers. What rivers were “navigable” did become another issue of dispute between state and federal officials but a federal court finally ruled that any body of water that could be used “as a route for transportation” qualified.

That 1987 ruling basically granted the state control of anything on which someone could float a two-person canoe, and thus the state was considered to have secured the authority to continue to manage salmon fisheries.

Water equals land

Enter the late Katie John, an Athabascan elder living far up the Copper River in the 1960s when the state banned fishing with nets and fishwheels in the upper river, arguably to protect runs of Chinook (king) and sockeye salmon.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, which sets fishing regulations, was then even more dominated by commercial fishing interests than it is today, and among commercial fishermen, the belief is in-river harvest of salmon is an inherently bad thing because it disturbs salmon on their “spawning beds.”

“Although local Natives did not legally protest the state’s 1964 fishing closure, many remained interested in the old village” fishing site at a place called site Batzulnetas, a National Park Service (NPS) history notes, and in “the early 1980s, Katie John and Doris Charles – two Ahtna elders residing in Mentasta Lake – ‘began talking about going back’ to the former village site. The women may then have spoken to NPS officials about the situation.”

The Park Service had become involved in managing the area near Batzulnetas as the result of the 1980 ANILCA creation of the more than 20,000-square-mile Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest federal reserve in the nation. 

In 1984, John and Charles petitioned the state Fish Board to allow fishing to resume at Batzulnetas, but the Board turned down the idea, suggesting the women fish farther downriver at Slana, Chistochina, or Chitina, where subsistence fisheries still existed.

John didn’t like the decision. She, according to the Park Service history, observed that “we’re Indian people and I don’t like park rangers or game wardens coming in here telling us what to do like they own everything. That makes me mad…. I don’t want to be on somebody else’s land. I like to do my fishing on my own land right there.”

She got in touch with the Colorado-based Native American Rights Fund (NARF), which sued the state on her behalf. Rather than fight a long legal battle, the state in 1987 allowed for a permitted fishery at Batzulnetas with a limit of 1,000 sockeye. NARF didn’t like the limit; so the state lifted it in 1988.

Still, NARF attorneys pressed on, arguing that requiring permits was an onerous restraint, and a federal District Court judge in 1989 granted John and Charles a permit-free fishery to remain open continuously from  June 23 through October 1.

It was the same year as the McDowell decision.

“The net result of the year’s two court decisions was the creation of a subsistence fishery that included Batzulnetas in which all Alaskans could take part, regardless of their rural or urban residency,” the Park Service history says.

John and others did not like this idea. Where is the subsistence “priority” for rural residents if there is the potential for some urban residents to participate in the fishery even if they don’t?

So John and NARF asked a newly created Federal Subsistence Board to make sure this couldn’t happen. The Board deferred, saying it had no authority over navigable waters.

NARF then went back to court once more to argue that the Copper River, in which John and Charles were fishing, should be considered “public land” under the terms of ANILCA.

The case was argued before U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland in 1991, but dragged out for years as other villages filed similar claims for relief and NARF pressed the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to seize control of fisheries management on Alaska rivers.

The secretaries, however, refused to take action until after Holland in 1993 wrote a draft opinion in which he observed “much of the best fishing is in the large navigable waterways where one has access to the most fish. By their regulations which exclude navigable waters from the jurisdiction of the Federal Subsistence Board, the (Interior) Secretary abandoned to state control of the largest and most productive waters used by rural Alaskans who have a subsistence lifestyle.”

“Justice Department lawyers – prodded by their superiors in the Clinton administration,” according to the Park Service history, at that point advised the secretaries that they should take over management on some public waters, but Holland granted them far broader authority.

In March 1994, the judge declared the navigable waters of Alaska “public lands.”

“Native groups, not surprisingly, were elated by the decision,” according to the Park Service. The administration of then Gov. Wally Hickel was not. It immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel upheld the ruling on a 2-1 vote.

The California-based justices did, however, limit Holland’s ruling. Navigable waters were “not ‘public land’ within the meaning of ANILCA because the United States does not hold title to (them),” they wrote, but ANILCA appeared to give the federal government the authority to take control of fisheries management in the navigable waters of parks, refuges and possibly within the boundaries of some other public lands.

“ANILCA’s language and legislative history do not give us the clear direction necessary to find that Congress spoke to the precise question of which navigable waters are public lands,” they added, along with a wish “that the federal agencies will determine promptly which navigable waters are public lands subject to federal subsistence management.”

What followed was a state attempt to write a new subsistence law similar to the federal law so that the feds might return day-to-day management authority to federal managers. That failed.

Efforts to broker some other sort of arrangement that allowed for the return of management to the state went on for years, but an agreement was never reached. State and federal fisheries managers, eventually, settled into an uneasy system of co-management wherein the feds tried to ensure a subsistence priority to salmon in rural areas while the state tried to maintain sport fisheries and largely continued to manage the commercial salmon fisheries in marine waters.

Deal breaker

Then along came a very stubborn moose hunter named John Sturgeon. For years, he’d hauled a one-man, air-cushioned vehicle – commonly known as a hovercraft – from the tiny community of Eagle down the Yukon River into the beyond-seldom-visited Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and used it to navigate up the shallow Nation River draining Canada’s Yukon Territory to the north and west.

Having solved the problem of how to easily travel up and down the Nation, Sturgeon had his own little moose hunting paradise until a National Park Service ranger came along and told him he couldn’t use his hovercraft in the preserve.

Sturgeon protested that ANILCA, the same ANILCA that created the subsistence mess, also specifically protected “traditional” means of travel in the state’s newly created parks and preserves, and the hovercraft was established as traditional before the law was written.

Furthermore, he argued, the Nation River was navigable, meaning that not only was the water in the river state-owned but so was the riverbed beneath and thus the Park Service had no authority to dictate who got to use it.

No, no, the ranger said. The river is in the preserve, which gives the Park Service authority, and hovercraft are banned because they are banned everywhere in parks in the U.S. Sturgeon appealed the ranger’s decision to his superiors, but these things being what they are, the ranger’s superiors decided they needed to back their man and let the ranger write the rules for the Yukon-Charley.

Sturgeon called bullshit on that and did the only thing there was left for him to do. He sued.

Amazingly, his lawsuit involving a lone moose hunter and a national preserve rarely visited by more than 2,000 people per year in recent times (for comparison sake, Yellowstone National Park can welcome more visitors on a busy summer day) went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the nation’s chief jurists decided that Sturgeon was right and the Park Service was wrong.

Sturgeon’s battle with the ultimate City Hall cost him more than $1 million, but in the end the judges decided that the Nation River was navigable; the Statehood Act had awarded Alaska title to the land beneath navigable waters; and thus the state – not the Park Service – was the only government entity with authority to establish the rules for who could or couldn’t use the waterway.

And this created a bit of a problem as noted by attorney Don Mitchell, the former general counsel to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) and a man who in that role was deeply involved in helping draft ANILCA.

The legal question in the Sturgeon case, he says, “was whether the navigable Nation River was ‘public lands’ as section 102(3) of ANILCA defined that term. That was the exact same legal question as the legal question that had been at issue in Katie John.

In Sturgeon v. (National Park Service Regional Director Bert) Frost, a decision it issued in 2019, a unanimous US Supreme Court said the answer was no.

“At the time everyone understood that Sturgeon and Katie John involved the same legal issue. Those everyones included (then) Gov. Bill Walker and his attorney general (AG), Jahna Lindemuth.

“But Walker was trapped. Because as governor he had to publicly side with Sturgeon. But in order to have any chance of being reelected in 2018 he needed the Native vote. And the Natives would have been outraged if his AG had gone out after Katie John.

“To try and square that circle politically, in a brief on behalf of her client,” Lindemuth argued that a web-footed bird paddling around on the pond and quaking was a seagull, not a duck.

Unfortunately, Mitchell said, it’s obvious the duck is a duck.

“It is so obvious that if the Sturgeon decision is correct (and it is because the U.S.Supreme Court says it is), then the Katie John decisions are wrong and should be overruled that when (Republican Mike) Dunleavy became governor, I assumed he would tell his AG to defend the State’s regulatory authority be suing to invalidate the Katie John decisions,” Mitchell said. “But Dunleavy hasn’t done that.”

Instead, the opposite has happened. The federal government has sued the state to take over management of the Kuskokwim River because it passes through the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Mitchell, who is no longer with the AFN, and has fallen out of favor with attorneys now advising Alaska Natives leaders, admits he doesn’t get it, but figures the feds must have some plan.

“In 1992 Bob Anderson,” he notes,  was the head attorney at the NARF office in Anchorage, and Anderson “came up with the legal theory in the Katie John lawsuit he filed that the navigable Copper River qualified as ‘public lands’ because the federal government had ‘federal reserved water rights’ and those rights were tantamount to an ownership interest” that gave the feds the authority to manage the fish in those waters.

This is the same Bob Anderson who became the chief attorney for Interior in January of last year.

Mitchell admits he can’t figure out what’s up, “but Anderson is a smart fellow and now a long experienced attorney. Being such, he understands both everything that I’ve related above and that the Katie John decisions cannot be reconciled with the Sturgeon decision.”

“I was general counsel of AFN at the time (of Katie John), and I advised that Anderson’s theory was, as a matter of law, nonsense. But shortly after Anderson filed Katie John I departed AFN and, as a consequence, I had no further involvement other than to watch from the sidelines as the litigation played out.”

He is still watching, and now there appear several possibilities for what is going on:

1.) Anderson believes Interior can get the courts to carve out an exception to the standards governing ownership of navigable waters, as the Ninth Circuit of Appeals suggested, that leaves Alaska’s navigable waters in state ownership only for certain purposes.

2.) Anderson believes Interior can come at the Sturgeon case from a different direction and somehow get the Supreme Court to reverse its earlier decision, something some national environmental groups would love to see happen.

3.) Anderson is simply putting on a show to try to convince Alaska Natives that the Democrat Biden administration cares about them more than the Republican Dunleavy administration.

Whatever the case, the only real losers appear to be guys like Evon if, of course, the feds intend to enforce their law limiting subsistence to “rural” residents and not create a new definition for “rural” as well.

















55 replies »

  1. Fishing policy calls are every bit as charged as national party politics. The big difference, as this post shows this, is real debate applying logic and personal observations. Brian O’D

  2. “What is required for a species to be listed as endangered?
    A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 70 percent and the cause of the decline is known.
    A species is also classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 50 percent and the cause of the decline is not known.”
    Seems like the Alaskan Chinook Salmon fits the category of a 50% decline, and the cause is not known.

    • Steve,
      I’m not sure where you pulled that quote from but it isn’t from the document you linked to.

      If you want to read what it actually takes to list a species as an endangered or threatened species you should read what is actually required to do so, see 16 U.S. Code § 1533 Determination of endangered species and threatened species. There’s no need to falsely attribute quotes or make things up.

      Do you have any data to support your statement that there is a 50% decline in “the Alaskan Chinook Salmon”? The data I’ve seen does not support that statement. Do you have any data to support your statement that “the cause is not known”? The data I’ve seen does not support that statement.

    • Certainly the King populations in Cook Inlet, PWS and the Kenai Peninsula fit the criteria.
      Steve O- There has to be consideration for individual populations. Arguing that the healthy status of some populations(very few, maybe the AK Peninsula) negate the need to protect others, say the Snake River population, is flawed. It seems the agencies who have listed them agree.

      • Robert,

        Perhaps that is the case, but what Steve S is arguing is that “the Chinook” is in danger of “going fully extinct” and that “the Alaskan Chinook Salmon” should be listed because he claims, without any proof that they’ve had a “50% decline, and the cause is not known.” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As is noted below “As of 2020, two populations of Chinook salmon are listed as endangered, and seven are listed as threatened under the ESA.” There are no populations listed as threatened let alone endangered in Alaska.

        Do you know what the historical escapement numbers are for the areas and rivers you’ve mentioned? Do you know what the OEG, SEG, or BEG’s are for these areas or rivers are? Do you know how many kings are caught in the trawl fisheries from the Gulf of Alaska through the Aleutians and in the Bering Sea?

        If you want to do something you should find out how many kings are caught as bycatch in the trawl fisheries and get on board with those who are trying to stop or reduce those numbers. You see some of us know what a large and controllable part of the cause in decline is and we aren’t hysterically claiming to list all king salmon as in danger of going fully extinct, because we are informed.

      • Listing local groups of plants and animals as endangered is a little game that Interior and the greens have been perfectly happy to do for a very long time. it is how we have a local population of beluga in Cook Inlet listed as endangered while they exist in large numbers in other areas of the state. Don’t get me started on subspecies. Cheers –

      • Agimarc , yeah the silly shuffling they do – i hear you . That said there is genetic reason to protect subspecies. It’s dangerous for a species as a whole to loose sections of genetic diversity. So there has to be balance between what is functional for society and what is reasonable for our society and what’s healthy for biodiversity of each animal species. It would seem rational to accept we are in a position of stewardship considering how our acts have such extreme repercussions and allegedly we are the smartest species on earth. From a genetic standpoint it’s important all subspecies stay strong? Unless of course there is excessive genetic disfunction in that subspecies.

      • DPR – Problem with this is that subspecies is never mentioned in the Endangered Species Act, which means Interior and the greens are making it up. Cheers –

      • Agimarc- i see . That makes sense . . Do you think its intent is being misused? Or abused? Like what happened with a lot of western states getting their land locked up do to some frog animal or owl ? The flip side of that is grizzly bears are still regulated by Alaska with significant take but I believe- correct me if im wrong it allows protection for lower 48 bears despite Alaskas large range and population. Maybe it makes the act nimble and functional. ( correct me if i am wrong on the bears) i do understand what you say though. Its being abused in the states i hear . Causing ranchers and loggers ect no end of headache. Alaska is removed from those problems a little. Bow heads get harvested ect . ( i definitely get your point though!) the act carries hazardous repercussions if used incorrectly.

      • DPR – yes to both – misued and abused.

        If they want to change the law, that is up to congress rather than the courts.

        And if they open it up again, it would be an opportunity to fix those things in the ESA that remove the incentive to increase numbers of members of endangered species. Today, a listing is almost exclusively used as a property grab, moving ownership from private / corporate to courts, NGOs and bureaucrats. No wonder that in the west, the reaction to finding a potential endangered species member on your property is SSS – shoot, shovel and shut up.

        What if the solution to finding an endangered species on your property is a stipend from the feds or any NGO payable to the property owner to increase its population? My guess is that the discovery of endangered species by green NGOs would fall off a cliff, but there may be a corresponding increase as the property owners go for the money grab, which will eventually enforce a rational solution.

        We end up with a bottom line of how valuable are endangered species to any or all of us? And somewhere along the line, we will have to answer the question on how much should we be playing God, given that new species arise all the time and go extinct all the time without our participation or help. Cheers –

      • If you are interested in free market / property rights approach to environmental questions, there is an outfit in Bozeman, MT – PERC – Property and Environment Research Center that works from this angle. Might be worth your time to look into. Cheers –

      • Steve o – California has gone a bit off its rocker imo .

  3. It’s worth noting that Sturgeon went before SCOTUS twice and was issued unanimous rulings both times. It’s a rarity for any case to be heard by SCOTUS, to be heard twice and have a unanimous ruling both times is extraordinary.

  4. It’s like Roe v Wade: the longer the government props it up, the uglier the situation gets. ANILCA was a legislative disaster, and the subsistence portion was the key to get aboriginal blessing and cooperation. The village natives have no problem screwing the “townies”, then or now, but eventually, it’s going to bite back.

  5. The bigger picture here is the state of Alaska has failed to manage fisheries across the state. I remember when “rural” residents in Willow used to land 50 lb kings on the muddy banks and not need to travel 250 miles to fill a freezer. Rural should not necessarily mean you need to live out in the bush. These days there are a handful of good subsistence locations left across the state. Local old tributaries like the Willow Creek and little Willow get posted with AK state F&G signs that say no king salmon fishing allowed (and have been for over 10 yrs). I for one welcome the feds to come in and close a few commercial fisheries before the Chinook goes fully extinct. It should definitely be on the endangered species list at this point and bycatch along with over harvesting ( by commercial “sport” and net fisherman is fully to blame). The state has failed it’s number one share holder and many of the residents have left as a result.

    • You have legitimate points. big picture.. management needs to improve without breaking constitutional law via discrimination among neighbors. Without stealing states rights. The legally correct position for feds is to stay in advisory role helping study why kings in nearly every river system statewide are failing then assist state to resolve. Maybe that means declaring kings endangered or providing disaster declaration money but an aggressive takeover is paramount to war on a state which is illegal without due process. Constitutional rights must be followed. But let me tell you steve i 100% feel for your statement and current position. Yet we must remember the fact – its often not what you do but how you do it . Lets not discriminate amongst neighbors. Save the kings ! Check ocean conditions! Study the problem! What is the root ? Do we need the feds to negotiate treaties to change ocean harvest? In with common sense! Out with tyranny and division!

    • It’s completely absurd to say the king salmon belongs endangered species list, it shows a complete and total lack of understand of the king salmon and of the endangered species list.

      • Steve o, – you could be right but your hubris betrays you . Do us a favor and provide a link to the endangered species act . Check section 4 a . It’s pretty broad.
        The whole act is pretty broad and inclusive and allows petitioners . The king does potentially fall under its guidelines as a threatened or endangered species. Yes its not on it but the guidelines allow for the potential. Being on the list would provide federal financing to potentially reduce the Kings decline. As to your attacking people instead of the information- just don’t. Now it’s possible you are correct so do explain in detail why it’s absurd to consider the king be put on the list ? Explain how there is a total lack of understanding of the king and the endangered species act . You have presented yourself as an expert so do teach us all.
        Steve o – why is the king undeserving of protection? I think the stats say its in decline. Both in size and quantity . The act allows species on the list for many reasons. Habitat, over harvest, failed management ect . So im interested to know why you are so passionately against helping this creature. Once its in recovery mode it can be taken off the list . Its not permanent. Yet our failure in management may soon make its demise likely.

      • Steve-O- Was reading recently that in the lower 48 there is a move afoot to list individual populations of anadromous fish, most prominent among them Steelhead populations on the Olympic Peninsula. This is happening due to total frustration with the Feds, State and especially the Tribes. The paperwork being prepared is using, as one of its points, that in relation to historical abundance that they are in fact endangered. How can you argue that a population that is 5-10% of it’s long term status is not endangered? One thought is that if this petition is filed with NOAA it sets the bar at the long term population average and removes the opportunity to move the goalposts. All agencies involved in this goalpost trickery should take a memo.

      • As we all know, words have meanings and in the case of “endangered species” in the Endangered Species Act these words are defined and codified in US law.

        16 U.S. Code § 1532 provides the definition: “The term “endangered species” means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this chapter would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.”

        You can find the information about how a species is determined to be endangered or threatened under 16 U.S. Code § 1533 Determination of endangered species and threatened species.

        You are mistaken in the definition of the word hubris, the word you are looking for is defined “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” that word is knowledge.

        You seem to have found some information on the ESA, per your request, here’s where it’s codified in US law

        I have no doubt there are people trying to get around the ESA by manipulating it the way you are saying.

      • Steve o – hubris was the word I intended because your self confidence and arrogance showed when you said complete lack of understanding of the king salmon and endangered species list. Your statement could be considered hubristic.
        Im fine if you just want to say your knowledge betrayed you . That’s possible enough as well. You know yourself so i will trust you on that .
        Thank You for providing link ! Gratitude!
        So check section 4 a . It says secretary gets to decide what is endangered or threatened. It clarifies that the options regarding danger are many but nowhere i saw did the act determine exact specific percentages.
        Which makes it broad. Its up to the secretary to determine if a species is in danger. Its up to us or other people to petition the secretary and the feds for that distinction. It’s certainly arguable that a species thats in significant decline like our king salmon meets the criteria. Ocean conditions, pinks , food sources, ocean harvest, river conditions, and river harvest are a few of the factors effecting decline in combination with arguably poor management . The endangered species act presents all those factors as reasons to be accepted. Therefore it’s pretty silly to say someone has no understanding of kings or the act . To say it’s absurd that someone says the king should be on the endangered species list is hard to understand when you look at the facts . – shut down and extreme decline in the Yukon, extreme decline in kuskokwim so much that shutdowns and squabbling is common,susitna valley in significant decline with reductions and shut downs, the kenai peninsula has had major declines- shutdowns harvest reduction the copper river has had significant declines and harvest reductions, Canada is claiming significant reductions, the lower 48 has had declines and shutdowns then some rebuilding. The only major watershed that I know of holding steady without hatchery help is Bristol bay . So that fits the definition of decline across most of the King salmon range . The sizes of kings has dropped extremely. Some rivers wouldn’t hardly get a run without hatchery assistance. So it begs the question- why are you so against putting the king on a list that will help it recover?
        Personally im not certain one way or other but its clear to me its not absurd to say the king should be on the list. Educate us please.

      • DPR,
        You’d need to reference the entire section on how the secretary is to decide (not how the “secretary gets to decide”). It’s not an arbitrary decision, it’s based upon such things as the definition of what an “endangered species” is. Once again that definition per the ESA is “The term “endangered species” means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this chapter would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.”

        Of particular note is the part that say “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” as you’ve demonstrated with your list of runs in decline the kings salmon has a wide range. Also decline does not mean there is a danger of extinction, not by any means. It’s laughable to claim a species with a range as wide as the king salmon and that in fact is now spread across the world is in danger of extinction, laughable.

      • Steve,

        Who knew there was more than one species of Chinook salmon? Strange because there are only seven species of salmon in the entire world. Obviously what NOAA was referring to is populations or subspecies of king salmon. “As of 2020, two populations of Chinook salmon are listed as endangered, and seven are listed as threatened under the ESA.” This is the manipulation of the ESA I spoke of earlier. King salmon, like all salmon, stray and some areas certainly have populations that are endangered, but king salmon as a species are not endangered.

      • Steve o- when you temper your idea I get your point. It’s possible you are correct. By what i see its a matter of degrees or opinion. What is your danger tolerance regarding that species? What is the scientific point that the species becomes vulnerable or unstable? We would need numbers beyond just supposition statements like – “it’s laughable” the situation on the Yukon river is no laughing matter. It may be life and death for that run . Teetering on the edge. The kuskwim was similar. The susitna valley is struggling. Where do we draw the line before he species is considered unstable? Commercial fishing for kings on the Yukon is done. It was extremely lucrative. When subsistence users are forced to limit their take of kings on the copper they don’t consider it a laughing matter. The people who have depended on fish for survival are not laughing. I get your point though when it’s discussed sanely. You could even be right. The question is where is the line and what are we willing to gamble? The future of this majestic important species?

      • DPR,
        Please don’t conflate the issue of subsistence fishing and listing Chinook as endangered being a laughing matter. If Chinook were listed as endangered there would be no subsistence fishery, if they were listed as threatened there would be no subsistence fishery, and that is without a doubt not a laughing matter.

        You ought to look up the escapement number for the rivers you mentioned, the Yukon alone is still well into the six figures while the numbers are down anyone with any understanding of the issue would never say that the chinook are on the verge of extinction. The same is true for all king returns in Alaska, while the numbers might be down they in no danger of going extinct.

      • Steve o – you are missing part of the point . For Canadians there is limited to no subsistence fishery any longer. Many people are self regulating and not even participateing . The salmon are half size . The commercial fishery is gone and people are pointing fingers . Even when the hatcheries are trying to keep up they cant . All along the river the people have had to find other food or ways to make a living. Even The lower Yukon commercial king fishery effectively no longer exists. Dead – get it ? One step away from extinction. I hear the same is happening on the kuskokwim , the susitna. The kenai is extremely reduced and no regular king subsistence fishery exists to my knowledge. Dead . Size depletion. A small commercial fishery on the ropes . People at each other’s throats. The copper is struggling. Kings were once numerous and plentiful with minimal restrictions. Coastal Canada is pointing fingers at Americans 👉. Where is your line steve o . Evidence says the runs are nearly dead. The people who rely on them can longer do so . Getting classified as endangered will not hurt anyone to any degree at this point. Then in a few years after treaty’s are up graded , failures determined and fixed perhaps we could go back to having strong runs , strong fish , and happy people who are not arguing about scraps. Or we can keep on as we are and risk complete failure. IDK . The king is pretty special and important. Why take a gamble? Just a thought. It’s either that or Alaska and Canada need to pull their pants up and make better management and investigation decisions.

      • DPR,

        There you go again reading things that aren’t there…who said we should do nothing? Listing the king salmon as endangered won’t hurt anyone to any degree? That’s absurd, just completely and utterly absurd. I’d sure like to see your evidence says “the runs are nearly dead”, there are two populations in the lower 48 listed as endangered and seven listed as threatened…there are none in AK, some are steady or even increasing in size.

        This issue requires rational discussions, sadly many are incapable of doing so and do not have the understanding to even know where to begin. Do yourself a favor and look up the escapement numbers for the rivers you wrote about, look at what the numbers were in the past, look at what the minimum number of fish are needed to maintain their existence. Look up what an endangered species listing would do for the Chinook and what it would do to the people in the areas affected. Inform yourself before making such outlandish and absurd statements…I won’t hold my breath and I’m sure you will be quick to respond before even contemplating any of this.

        Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day, don’t forget to take a moment to remember those who gave their lives for us.

      • Steve o – you are one reading things not tgere . I said commercial king fishery on lower Yukon is dead . And so it is . You need to pay attention and read carefully before getting all wound up. I didn’t say the run is dead though thats close as subsistence is now limited tgere .

      • Steve o- you do relize certain endangered species still get harvested at times depending on recovery status? Thats why i said it wouldn’t hurt to get on endangered list . Recover faster . Determine problems and solutions then when acceptable return to full harvest. That offsets temporary suffering which equates wouldn’t hurt to any degree. ( sure
        Might have been generalized but wasn’t absurd) perhaps you read when i said runs nearly dead and interpreted that to mean dead . I wasn’t clear. I meant runs declining and in significant danger.

      • DPR,
        You should read what you wrote again, you said much more than just the Yukon commercial king fishery is dead. Then you should read what I wrote again. While your at it read what I wrote to Robert above. More than anything, if you want to be involved in an actual conversation, inform yourself DPR or ask others to help inform you.

      • Steve o- ,
        Im confused why you persist saying im uninformed versus presenting information that bolsters your anti king protection position? Have i not been relatively accurate? – is not Yukon king commercial operations shut down? Hasn’t their subsistence fishery been closed or greatly curtailed? Is the kenai peninsula not under multiple emergency notifications regarding take ? Hasn’t their whole salmon fishery been adjusted around the king ? At least to some degree? Isn’t the susitna closed to sport keeping of kings ? Isn’t their king commercial fishery curtailed? How about the copper? Reductions across the board? The kuskokwim- reductions Or closures? Are not some species allowed to be harvested in limited fashion despite being on endangered species list? If these are not facts then please present your data to bolster your position against king salmon protection.

      • DPR,
        No doubt you are confused. No one is saying there aren’t runs and fisheries in decline…a decline does not an endangered species make, as has been previously discussed.

        I do not have an “anti king protection position”. I have a it’s completely absurd, ridiculous, and laughably ignorant to say that “the Chinook” is in danger of “going fully extinct” and that “the Alaskan Chinook Salmon” should be listed as an endangerd species without a shred of evidence to support that belief, position.

        Do you think that the only way to protect king salmon is to declare them an endangered species even if doing so would quite literally violate the endangered species act?

      • Steve o- I completely disagree with your statement not a shred of evidence. That is significantly inadequate regarding everything ive read and seen. As to your question it’s oddly framed as it
        Inaccurately assumes the act would
        Be violated. I will answer the base question though.
        I think it would be acceptable and functional to not utilize the endangered species act to save the kings if alaska Canada and the feds improve their management and find a way to increase survival rates and return rates and increase king populations. Whatever works for all parties is great!

      • DPR,
        What I mean by a shred of evidence is something tangible that meets the ESA definition of an endangered species, something tangible that meets the requirement for listing a species as being in danger of extinction. You’ve brought nothing tangible. In otherwords, neither you nor Steve S has provided a shred of evidence to support your belief that listing “the Chinook” or “the Alaskan Chinook Salmon” meets the requirements of the ESA. You haven’t even passed the threshold for consideration, you know there is a threshold for a proposal to even be considered, right? They don’t just take any random persons word for it especially when that random person doesn’t bring a shred of evidence to support their belief.

        If a species were to be listed as being in danger of going extinct, when in fact it is not, that would be in violation of the ESA.

        These aren’t hard concepts to grasp.

        It would be great for you to find an actual interest in this issue more than a simple online kneejerk argue with anything Steve-O says kind of interest that you’ve become so fond of as of late. You should seriously look into the trawl fleet bycatch issue, it’s massive and will help you understand why there are many, many other issues that rightfully should be explored and dealt with before an endangered species listing should even be talked about. And don’t expect your government to just deal with it without the engagement of the people, get involved even if it’s just sending a letter to the appropriate governing bodies. If I can help you with that, just reach out and I will help point you in the right direction.

      • Steve o – you are not esa . Nor are anything to do with the endangered species act .
        Your opinion is only your opinion. You have not done your research steve o or you wouldn’t say stupid stuff like not one shred of evidence. You can find evidence all over the internet of failing king runs . In fact this article is in part about failing king runs ? Are you truly that daft that you need it spoon fed ? If so let me know and i will help you find the information you lack .
        Knee jerk reactions you say ? Have you lost it ? Article after article and fish order after fish order by f/g documents the decline and the destruction of lives and economy based around the king in most river systems.
        Steve o you are either drunk or arguing a point you know is untenable. Just for kicks .
        Ask your self are there significant reductions in king gear on the kenai? Restrictions on take that were unheard of before? In most river systems? Are the kings not publicly documented to be significant smaller than before?
        Trawlers – yes they are concerning. Perhaps they are behind the devastation. If you are right thats an extreme reason to classify the kings as endangered because alaska cant legally enter into treaties with other nations and we cant declare war . So if you are correct that its the trawlers then it’s imperative the kings become classified as endangered or threatened.
        You say find an actual intrest in the issue beyond a knee jerk reaction to support steve stines position ? Never have a heard gas pass louder than how you speak. Steve o – i was born on the banks of a salmon river. Protected in my spruce pole cage as the hand made fishwheel turned in the rivers flow and my mother cut strips while my father waded in the icy water pulling the great kings from nets and the box . I have subsisted on fish from nearly every major drainage in alaska . From kotz – unk – Yukon- kusko- copper-peninsula- susitna-even major water bodies in south east.
        I have salmon in my cells . My candy of child hood was salmon strips and canned smoke salmon. I have first hand watched the decline of the mighty king and i feel its loss in my soul.
        It is with regularity that myself my friends and my family are restricted in consumption of the king. Have you eaten king head soup on a daily basis steve o ? For weeks? You shouldn’t talk to me in condescending manner and say I have no real intrest in the issue, that i have develop intrest to partake in the conversation. I no longer have the king salmon commercial permits i once helped earn money for my family due to fishing closures. . Ive commercial fished in the largest drainages in Alaska. I have a grasp of kings precarious situation. Ive watched untold Freinds have. Their lives changed by the strain on our fish runs. Have you not heard the political barking over kings and salmon in your kenai area? Go crawl back in your dirty troll hole steve o.

      • Typical DPR, can’t be bothered to be informed so level attacks at those who are…sad and yet predictable. Nothing you’ve said lends any credence to listing kings as an endangered species. Maybe you ought to actual read what it takes to list a species as an endangered species before flying off the handle in a personal attack and obviously uninformed rant.

        Oh and it’s not just my opinion, it’s my opinion based upon facts, it’s my opinion based upon logic and reason, and it’s my opinion based upon the law.

      • Steve o- equates opinion with fact. I think i hear a violin 🎻. 🧀🍷( have some cheese and wine steve o). Calling your lies lies isn’t a personal attack its just documentation. Try your gas lighting with someone else . ( im glad you are so informed) keep up the bs Steve o . Its entertaining. Steve o says “ my opinions are facts!” Believe me darn it ! Don’t believe the fish and game or the people on the rivers, diverse user groups , feds , or fish counters ! All those documents of failing king runs are wrong! Chants master gas lighter steve o ! Steve o what a load of bull . Dont quit your day job . I don’t know what your angle is steve o but its bent . Yukon river closes commercial take on kings. Most other major rivers have limited their subsistence and sport take and ir commercial take of kings . What facts do you need steve o ? When the headlines say king salmon take for commercial fishery was 0 ? Will that be enough?( god forbid) don’t you think thats a little late ? Steve o – the largest river in Alaska- the Yukon has had repeated shut down of the commercial king fishery . Does that not resemble a warning bell ? Obviously 🙄 im talking to a brick wall. Good day .

      • DPR,

        Whoa, all you had to say was you haven’t read what it takes to declare a species endangered…which is obvious at this point.

        There you go reading stuff that isn’t there again…where exactly did I say “my opinions are facts!”? I never said that, not even close. Please do yourself a favor and in the future if you are going to quote someone use the words they actually used…that’s how quotes work. You can’t simply make stuff up and then falsely attribute it to someone.

      • Steve o, you didn’t have to say it . You showed it time and time again. Quit playing stupid. You know it was parody. Humor of constant examples where you pretend your statements represent fact. Btw ive read what goes into determination of endangered species so quit making dishonest assumptive statements.

  6. Anilca was faulty from start . Alaska should have complete ownership of its land and waters . Thats statehood.
    The feds method of discrimination is unconstitutional. You are equal or you are not. They are extremely in the wrong. They could almost be right if they got rid of rural concept and switched to every American has a priority to the animals within a 1 mile radius of their house. Then its equal. The whole customary thing is inaccurate. Humans were a migratory people who traveled long distances and had fish and hunting camps . That’s historical usage regardless of residence. So evon is clearly exercising his historical traditional rights more accurately than the feds interpretation. Static villages was an uncommon occurrence historically. Unless you are talking within 100 years which is limited. Evons right to stay connected and help feed his father children relatives ect is equal to anyone’s rights. The population should be managed appropriately and responsibly without discrimination against human rights and without dividing the people of a state into factions. The feds have lost their marbles and should pack up and leave.

  7. Part of this is fiction Craig, and part is based on opinion from a lawyer who was wrong about Sturgeon and hasn’t thought out the big picture

    • Nope, to the contrary Doug I’d say Medred did a pretty good job of trying to explain an arcane law’s affect on all Alaskans who choose to acquire a wildfood harvest annually.

      How about you go ahead and tell us what the big picture really is regarding “dueling management” of public resources on federal lands/water in Alaska.

  8. This is much to do about nothing.

    Federal subsistence laws which give local residents first priority to feed their families, is a humane policy in times of resource sscarcity.

    Urban dwellers have excellant access to affordable food at Safeway.

    Rural residents regularly harvest local food and send it to relatives living in urban areas, if they desire traditional foods.

    Allowing urban residents to fly into rural Alaska to hunt and fish to their hearts content often leaves local residents short of food for the winter.

    You cite the 255 subsistence permits issued on the Tanana River in 1980. Many of these permits were simply a guise to go fishing for the rare Yukon Chinook salmon, which was decimated by Fairbanks urban resident to the detriment of all the remote villages along the Yukon which depended upon the Yukon Chinook.

    For decades you could buy Yukon Chinook strips in Fairbanks, all caught by urban “subsistance” fishermen. It was a lucrative trade and well documented, for those who care to look.

    I am not convinced that the Feds are actually looking out for rural residents, or there is some hidden agenda. If the Feds are actually helping rural Native Alaskan villages, that would be a rare event in history.

    • Nothing in federal law Title VIII of ANILCA refers to the rural priority being in times of shortage only.
      The priority has been implemented just because locals felt nonlocals interfered with their ability to participate in subsistence practices

      • Rural priority during times of shortage is implied. In times of surpluses to rural needs, the priority is meaningless, as everyone gets to fish with generous limits.

    • Karl – much ado about nothing? Tell that to “urban” alaskans . Or “urban” natives like evon who are denied their rights to participate fully in their culture. Tell it to the the Alaskans who discriminated against just because of their location. The whole concept of customary harvest is foolish once you become an American. Equal rights under the law washes that nonsense away. Born equal.
      Someone forgot to tell the feds every human being moved in from somewhere/ migrated to this land . The “natives” did the English did as did innumerable cultures . Now we are equal. The constitution doesn’t say some are more equal than others if you live near a resource. We are all human beings. Part of the problem is people in bethel have been declared urban despite their closeness to rural villages. They should have an equal right to participate in the fish that pass their front door. Yet the feds discriminate against their natural rights to feed themselves in a manner they have done since the beginning of human history. That’s traditional.

      • I thoroughly understand the point you are making. I did not know that Bethel had been declared “urban”. Not right.

        I guess what I meant was that the relatively few urban folks impacted is pretty small outside of Bethel.

        Providing rural residents a priority, is the only moral thing to do.

        Unfortunately the rules are too often written by bureaucrats living in a city, with zero rural Alaskan experiance.

        … but when they get off the plane they have all the answers.

    • “…….Urban dwellers have excellant access to affordable food at Safeway………”
      With supply line problems surfacing (thanks to federal pandemic management), and global food production and shipping problems forecasted for the near future (thanks to federal foreign policy), it’s looking like Safeway might have some difficulty supplying food to urban Alaskans. So riddle me this, Douglas: do urban Alaskans have or need a subsistence priority for imported food? If there is not enough to go around in the stores, isn’t it fair to curb food shipments to the Bush so that urban Alaskans get enough food?If subsistence is good for the goose, isn’t it also good for the gander? Or would that be “racist”?

  9. The Balkanization of Alaska, the further down that trail we go the greater the chance of conflicts among all Alaskans. That’s a bummer. Seems like sharing public lands and resources would be better for Alaska’s future.

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