History and Establishment of AMBCC

(1) What was the purpose of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

In the early 1900s, migratory bird hunting in North America was not Federally regulated and commercial market hunting of birds took its toll on population numbers. The 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada sought to stem the rapid declines noted in some bird species. The treaty prevented market hunting, opened regulated sport hunting of “game” species (primarily waterfowl), and protected birds during the nesting season, March 10 through September 1. Similar migratory bird treaties were subsequently signed between the United States and Mexico (1936), Japan (1972), and Russia (1976). To implement these treaties in the United States, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918 with later amendments).

(2) Why did the U.S. negotiate the 1997 Protocols?

The traditional harvest of migratory birds by northern peoples during the spring and summer months was not taken fully into account during the legal negotiations for the Canada and Mexico treaties. This harvest, which had occurred for centuries, was necessary to the subsistence way of life in the north and thus continued despite the closed season. To remedy this situation, the United States negotiated Protocols amending both the Canada and Mexico treaties to allow for spring/summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds by indigenous inhabitants of identified subsistence harvest areas in Alaska. The U.S. Senate approved the amendments to both treaties in 1997.

(3) How did the 1997 Protocols change the treaties?

The major goals of the amended treaty with Canada are to allow for traditional subsistence harvest and to improve conservation of migratory birds by allowing effective regulation of this harvest. The amended treaty with Canada allows permanent residents of villages within subsistence harvest areas, regardless of race, to continue harvesting migratory birds between March 10 and September 1 as has been done for thousands of years. The Letter of Submittal, which accompanies the Protocols and sets out details for implementation, states that lands north and west of the Alaska Range and within the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Archipelago, and the Aleutian Islands generally qualify as subsistence harvest areas. Treaty language provides for further refinement of this determination through regulations. The amendments are not intended to cause significant increases in the take of migratory birds. To that end, the Letter of Submittal places limitations on who is eligible to harvest and where they can harvest migratory birds. Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna and Fairbanks North Star -2- Boroughs, the Kenai Peninsula roaded area, the Gulf of Alaska roaded area, and Southeast Alaska generally do not qualify as subsistence harvest areas. Limited exceptions may be made so that some individual communities within these excluded areas may qualify for designation as subsistence harvest areas for specific purposes.

(4) How did the treaty amendments lead to the formation of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council?

The amended treaty with Canada calls for creation of management bodies to ensure an effective and meaningful role for Alaska’s indigenous inhabitants in the conservation of migratory birds. According to the Letter of Submittal, management bodies are to include Alaska Native, Federal, and State of Alaska representatives as equals. This led to the creation of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council.

(5) What does the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council do?

Building on a procedural foundation established by regulation in 2002, the Council will develop recommendations for, among other things: seasons and bag limits, methods and means of take, law enforcement policies, population and harvest monitoring, education programs, research into, and use of, traditional knowledge, and habitat protection. The 2002 procedural regulations identify where the subsistence harvest may occur and who is eligible to participate. The Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council will submit relevant recommendations to the Service Regulation Committee. Restrictions in harvest levels for the purpose of conservation will be shared equitably by users in Alaska and users in other states, taking into account nutritional and other essential needs of subsistence users in Alaska. This was the process used to develop the proposed 2003 Alaska harvest regulations in the Proposed Rule.

(6) How will the Council ensure that bird conservation occurs?

The co-management process involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Native representation will utilize all available information regarding continental bird population trends, past harvest levels, and local traditional environmental knowledge in making recommendations.

(7) When would the 2003 Alaska Spring/Summer Migratory Bird Subsistence Harvest regulations take effect?

The Alaska Spring/Summer Migratory Bird Subsistence Harvest regulations would take effect on July 21, 2003; the date of publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register. The subsistence season ending dates of the harvest vary in different regions of the state, but none extend past August 31. If you are interested in specifics of the hunt such as when eligible individuals may hunt, what species may be hunted, and what methods and means an individual may use, please consult the Final Rule or the Public Regulations Booklet.

(8) What areas are open to harvest and who, in those areas, is eligible to hunt?

Permanent residents of villages within subsistence harvest areas are eligible to harvest migratory birds and their eggs for subsistence purposes in the spring and summer. For more specifics regarding “subsistence harvest areas,” please see the 2002 “Procedures for Establishing Spring/Summer Subsistence Harvest Regulations for Migratory Birds in Alaska” [67 Fed. Reg. 53511].

(9) How were the 22 birds that overlapped on both the 2002 Birds of Conservation Concern list and the 2003 Subsistence Harvest list dealt with?

The 2002 Birds of Conservation Concern (BCC) list, recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is legislatively mandated by a 1988 amendment to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980. The Act requires that the Service identify species at risk and in need of conservation action. A total of 129 birds are listed. There is no regulatory authority associated with this list. In the interest of conservation, the nine birds of highest concern were taken off the 2003 harvest list. The nine birds removed are: trumpeter swans, marbled and Hudsonian godwits, yellow-billed loons, American and Pacific golden-plovers, bristle-thighed curlews, whimbrel, and buff-breasted sandpiper. The remainder of the BCC bird species (13) still on the subsistence harvest list were remanded back to the Co-Management Council for further consideration for the 2004 season.

Additional Background 

In 1997 the United States Senate ratified Protocols that amended the Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada. This action authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to open spring and summer subsistence harvesting of migratory birds and their eggs in Alaska. The Protocol acknowledged “the intent of the United States to provide for the customary and traditional taking of certain species of migratory birds and their eggs for subsistence use by indigenous inhabitants of Alaska;” and stipulated “that it is not the intent of this Protocol to cause significant increases in the take of species of migratory birds relative to their continental population sizes.

The Protocol mandates that “Indigenous inhabitants of the State of Alaska shall be afforded an effective and meaningful role in the conservation of migratory birds including the development of regulations affecting the non-wasteful taking of migratory birds and the collection of their eggs, by participating on relevant management bodies.” As a result the AMBCC, composed of State, Federal, and Alaska Native regional representatives, was formed. A major function of the Council is to develop recommendations for harvest regulations which are submitted to the Service’s Regulation Committee in Washington D.C. The Council develops its recommendations largely from input obtained at the local level.