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SELAWIK: Big Game Hunting in Northwest Alaska- A New Approach to an Old Problem
Alaska Region, September 18, 2007
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Floatplanes are commonly used by visiting hunters to access hunting areas in the Kotzebue Sound region. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS, August 2006.
Floatplanes are commonly used by visiting hunters to access hunting areas in the Kotzebue Sound region. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS, August 2006. - Photo Credit: n/a
Local Kotzebue hunters typically access hunting areas using boats like these.  Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS, August 2006.
Local Kotzebue hunters typically access hunting areas using boats like these. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS, August 2006. - Photo Credit: n/a

A new cooperative effort in the Kotzebue Sound region aims to balance the needs of local subsistence hunters and visitors. Most public use on the Selawik Refuge is in the form of subsistence activities by local residents. Caribou hunting, subsistence fishing, furbearer trapping, and berry picking go on as they have for many hundreds of years. The residents of this area still depend on the wildlife and natural resources of the refuge for much of their food and for the perpetuation of their traditional way of life.

Over the last decade, the number of guides, transporters, and visiting hunters has increased, , leading to conflicts with local subsistence hunters in the Kotzebue Sound region.  Previous attempts by state and federal managers to define and resolve the problem have met with only limited success. Recognizing that any solution will take the cooperation and coordination of all agencies and land owners, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge has entered into a new cooperative agreement with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to form and support a Unit 23 Working Group.  “Unit 23” is the game management unit that encompasses the Kotzebue Sound region.    

The Working Group’s objectives include:

  • Determine the social carrying capacity for areas where conflicts exist;
  • Minimize impacts to natural resources;
  • Safeguard the spiritual and cultural well-being of Alaska Natives; and
  • Ensure the quality of experience for visiting hunters and equity among commercial service providers. 

Other active participants in the Working Group are the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Board of Game, and Federal Subsistence Board.

The GMU 23 Working Group plans to meet over the next three years to explore the tools available to resolve this issue.  The meetings are open to the public.  Selawik National Wildlife Refuge is optimistic that this new approach will yield results that benefit everyone. 


Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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