50 Years: Collaboration for Conservation
Inspired by this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention theme, ‘ANCSA at 50: Empowering Our Future’, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presents stories of five decades — past and future — honoring collaborative work with Alaska Native peoples. We acknowledge there is more to be done. The timeline chronicles co-management agreements, legislative actions, and partnerships that help bridge the gap between the Service and Alaska Native peoples to ensure a meaningful voice.
Today, we join the thousands of official delegates and participants from across Alaska to listen and learn from traditional knowledge, experiences and stories with hope for building a more collaborative future.
Collaboration on Goose Conservation
In response to severe declines in cackling Canada geese, emperor geese, Pacific white-fronted geese, and Pacific brant, the Association of Village Council Presidents and its Waterfowl Conservation Committee, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the California Department of Fish and Game collaborated on the development and implementation of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan. Thanks to Yup’ik leadership and the shared efforts across the Pacific Flyway, the populations of the four Arctic-nesting geese species increased. The collaboration continues today.
Hiring Local People
The USFWS and local Tribal leaders and councils agreed on the need to collect waterfowl data to allow conservative harvests of waterfowl. Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta residents and USFWS refuge managers recognized the need to increase awareness of the declining geese populations and develop programs that would speak to all ages. They came up with the idea of hiring local Alaskans to create a communication link between rural residents and USFWS managers. The Refuge Information Technician (RIT) program was established by the USFWS to create this communication link. The RITs carry the message of wildlife conservation to 100 villages or one third of all of Alaska’s communities every year. The RIT program has broken down many barriers, bridging the gap between rural Alaskans and the Service.
Meet some current and former Refuge Information Technicians
Orville Lind, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq, began his career with the USFWS as a RIT in 1991. He has held several other positions since then, including Refuge Ranger, Research Vessel Captain and his current position, Tribal liaison in the Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage.
Cora Demit, Upper Tanana Athabascan, a RIT at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center since 1991, loves meeting people, sharing her culture, and the wonders of Alaska with visitors.
Sylvia Pitka, Upper Tanana Athabascan, a RIT at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center since 2010, treasures the memory of the day she was hired. She still loves her work.
Christopher Tulik, Yup’ik, began working as a RIT at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge more than 30 years ago. As Lead RIT, he enjoys talking and meeting with the people in the villages, gaining friendships and trust. Chris is Making a Difference: one Yupik conversation at a time.
Collaboration on Walrus Conservation
The Eskimo Walrus Commission (EWC) and the USFWS began working together in 1986 to ensure the participation of subsistence hunters in conservation and management of Pacific walrus. The EWC is an Alaska Native marine mammal commission and statewide co-management entity, representing 19 Alaskan coastal walrus hunting communities from Utqiagvik to Bristol Bay. The EWC and USFWS formalized their co-management collaboration in 1997 and continue to strengthen joint conservation efforts today.
Co-Management of Migratory Birds
The United States amended treaties with Canada and Mexico in 1997 that had prevented the traditional spring and summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds in Alaska. The Canada Treaty was also amended to require that management bodies be established to provide an effective and meaningful role for Alaska Natives in the conservation of migratory birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked through a public process that included Alaska Native entities and communities to develop a structure for the management bodies. Through the public process, the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC), and 10 regional management bodies were established. With the help of the regional management bodies and the AMBCC, the first regulations to formally recognize and provide opportunities for the customary and traditional subsistence uses of migratory birds in Alaska during the spring and summer were published in 2003.
Self-Governance and a Conservation Partnership
The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments (CATG), a consortium of 10 Tribal governments, have collaborated under an annual funding agreement for 17 years. Through this partnership, the Refuge and CATG have worked together on moose management, the One Health program, youth culture and science camps, and other refuge operations projects. An example of the strong collaboration, CATG employee Julie Mahler, works with Refuge Park Ranger Mimi Thomas, both Gwich’in, on various aspects of the agreement, such as the youth camps.
Collaboration on Kuskokwim Salmon Management
In 2015, the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (KRITFC) was formed by 33 member tribes working to co-manage one of the most critical cultural resources along the Kuskokwim River — salmon. One year later, the KRITFC signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the first formalization of co-management between the Kuskokwim River Tribes and the federal government. With the support of the KRITFC, Kuskokwim River Tribes and rural residents collaborate with USFWS managers to formulate management strategies and actions.
A Vision for the Future
Alaska Native peoples have lived from, with, and as a part of the environment since time immemorial, and as such, have a direct connection to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Mission in the Alaska Region. We have the responsibility to understand that our work has an impact on the daily life of many Alaska Native peoples who are spiritually, physically, culturally, and historically connected to the land, wildlife, and waters. The USFWS Alaska Native Relations Policy sets forth the guidelines for all employees, no matter their interactions with Tribes. We envision a brand new chapter of the USFWS Alaska Native Relations Policy and will conduct consultations with Tribal governments, Alaska Native Corporations, and Alaska Native Organizations to finalize the policy in 2022.
Graphics by Sebastian Garber, Dena’ina Athabascan designer from Anchorage, Alaska.
In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.