Children play at an AMBCC event in Barrow. Photo by AMBCC
The Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) set the foundation for bird conservation in North America. While the prohibition on hunting from March 10 to September 1 that resulted was a critical provision in protecting birds while they breed and raise their young, it made the traditional spring-summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds by northern indigenous peoples illegal.
In Arctic and sub-Artic regions, fall, and its attendant bird migrations, come earlier than in more southerly latitudes, and by September, many birds are already gone. Prior to 1918, when the treaty was enacted, the traditional spring-summer harvest had occurred for thousands of years as an integral part of the northern peoples’ subsistence way of life and thus continued despite the closed season. Efforts to enforce the treaty in Alaska resulted in hardship for the subsistence communities and created conflict between indigenous peoples and government agencies.
|The AMBCC logo features a Yup’ik mask by artist Katie Curtis from Toksook Bay, Alaska. It depicts a Canada goose surrounded by eight feathers, which represent the steps to implement a legal, regulated spring subsistence bird hunt: Notify people of the intent to form management bodies, meet to share ideas, send out ideas and listen, choose the form of management bodies, start rule-making, recommend rules for Alaska, link with management in other U.S. Flyways, and link with the nation.|
To remedy this situation, Alaska Natives and others worked to successfully amend the treaty in 1997. The amendment authorizes a regulated spring-summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds in Alaska and improves bird conservation by including subsistence harvest in the management system. The amendment also states that subsistence harvest is to remain at traditional levels relative to bird population sizes and that subsistence harvesters are to have a meaningful role in harvest management and bird conservation. This inclusion of Alaska Natives as true partners in the management of migratory birds returns to them a sense of ownership, thereby improving bird conservation in Alaska, in the Pacific Flyway and across the nation.
To implement these provisions of the amendment, the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC) was formed in 2000 as a co-management partnership among the U.S. government (represented by the Service), Alaska (represented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) and Alaska Natives (represented by the Native Caucus, which includes Alaska Native representatives from 10 geographic regions across the state). The AMBCC considers recommendations for subsistence harvest regulations and other topics related to bird harvest and conservation. These proposed regulations are based on traditional and cultural practices of Alaska Native peoples as well as western science. Traditional Ecological Knowledge is also a key component in both the development of regulations and the review process.
People buy Duck Stamps during a festival in Barrow. Photo by AMBCC
“The AMBCC is one of the best examples of co-management in the state of Alaska today,” says Patty Schwalenberg, AMBCC executive director. “Alaska Natives have ownership in this process because they are included as an equal partner, and their advice and expertise is seriously considered when issues begin to be discussed.”
By working together, these three partners have been able to successfully engage Alaska Natives in 1) the development of regulations; 2) the review and approval of the proposed regulations; and 3) in the implementation of the regulations during the spring-summer subsistence season.
As a result, the AMBCC’s first management plan was approved last September. This plan will guide the harvest of emperor geese, which haven’t been harvested in nearly 30 years.
“Co-Management, collaborative management, cooperative management, call it whatever you want. All we know is what we have at the AMBCC works. It works for all partners and most importantly, it works for the conservation of the migratory birds we all enjoy,” says Schwalenberg.
The first legal Alaska subsistence harvest season was just 13 years ago in 2003. The AMBCC partners have made much progress since, and continue to work together to fine-tune harvest regulations and related processes and to heal from the decades of conflict. Though challenges remain, much progress has been achieved through this unique partnership — a truly collaborative approach to manage harvest and conserve migratory birds for current and future generations.
TAMARA ZELLER, Migratory Bird Management, Alaska
|This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.|