Every so often it's good to look into the past to revisit the people who got us where we are today. Looking Back is a series on the people who helped shape the National Wildlife Refuge System. The series is based on "A Look Back," a regular column written by Karen Leggett, from the Refuge System Branch of Communications, which appears in each issue of the Refuge Update newsletter.
Chuck Hunt grew up in a remote Yupik village in Alaska, rich in culture, subsisting on the resources of nature.
Those villages are still remote, but now they have schools, satellites and science. Hunt became the bridge between those two worlds. A 22-year employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Charles Francis “Chuck” Hunt served as a Native liaison for the Yupik people of western Alaska’s Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Officially, he was a translator between the Upik language and English.
Unofficially, his diplomatic approach and sense of humor eased difficult and sometimes tense relations between Native leaders and federal managers. Jim Kurth, now deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, worked with Hunt to establish Regional Subsistence Advisory Councils in western Alaska in the early 1990s.
He recalls that “Chuck had the ability to live in the traditional Yupik world but also understand that conservation of natural resources required people to understand science.” Hunt also taught the Service “how to be respectful of Yupik elders and effective within the Yupik culture.”
Hunt worked to engage people in the science of conservation. He was instrumental in the development of the Yukon Delta Goose Management Plan that recognized the value of geese as food for the Native populations but also helped reduce harvests of nesting geese whose populations had seriously declined.
His tireless educational efforts in more than 30 villages also resulted in increased use of nontoxic shot for subsistence waterfowl hunting in western Alaska. Hunt was also eager to bring a new generation of Native leaders into the Service. Kurth remembers how he would always walk into the regional office in Anchorage with his big beaming smile, asking, “How many Native people have you hired?”
Hunt once wrote, “To be a leader, one does not need a title, but care, understanding and concern for the well-being of all people.” He was a transformational figure, says Kurth, “a leader within the Service and a leader within the Yupik community.”