Subsistence: Biologist Underscores NSB Wildlife Proposals

In a striking report documenting an eleven-year study of Alaskan wolves, moose, sheep, and caribou, Dr. Gordon Haber of the University of Alaska has proposed ecosystem management of wildlife, a goal long urged by the North Slope borough. According to press reports covering the release of the important 817-page study, Haber’s recommendations are based on field work carried out primarily in the Mt. McKinley National Park over an eight-year period from 1966 to 1974 and in three more years of processing that data. His field work resulted from over 800 hours of aerial survey and thousands of hours of backpacking and horseback travel. More than 8,300 hours were given to three wolf packs alone. His data provides significant new evidence for wildlife management.

Dr. Haber stressed a need for much greater attention to the complexities of behavior in deciding how to manage wildlife species. He said this is especially important for the highly social animals, like the wolf. He said it was a great mistake for State Fish and Game to view Alaskan Caribou herds in isolation from Canadian ones in the 1950s and therefore permit heavy harvests. This led to heavy harvests which have brought both Canadian and Alaskan herds to their present low levels, and unusual an perhaps dangerous situation.

“There is a critical need to look more at entire ecosystems rather than at the individual populations or species that comprise them,” Haber stated. “Natural systems are far trickier than we have supposed, and by looking primarily at pieces of these systems instead of the wholes, we are easily misled by this trickery and end up over harvesting to the point recovery may not occur for years or even decades.”

The NSB has supported the ecosystem approach to game management in the current D-2 Land Claims legislation now before Congress. It has asked first of all that the entire North Slope be designated as a Wildlife Refuge since this is the only designation that gives full protections to subsistence use. It has also urged against the Balkanizing of wildlife management through the proliferation of fish and game and subsistence boards. Each ecosystem must be managed cooperatively by all agencies and parties involved, and this should also include special international arrangements with other governments such as Canada when migratory food sources are involved.

Connecticut Artist Wages Campaign for Whale Welfare: In mid-December, Mayor Eben Hopson received a drawing of the Bowhead Whale, a gift from the Connecticut Cetacean Society. This group has been most active in producing whale conservation programs in Connecticut. For one thing, they reviewed the NSB film, “The Last Anchor,” and made it available as a part of their whale conservation program in the state public schools. This picture was drawn by CCS President Don Sineti. Seneti is a full time carpenter who is also a folk singer, songwriter, and actor. One of his recent projects was to build a full-size, walk-in whale outside the Children’s Museum in West Hartford. Sineti lectures about whales all over the Northeast. He brings his knowledge of whales, dolphins, and seals to schools, nature centers, and conservation groups. He says, “I want people to appreciate the beauty of the free, living whale.”

Bowhead Politics: Whales Negotiate Peace with NMFS
Vote to Cooperate with IWC Bowhead Quota-Bowhead Politics Switch from D.C. and Tokyo to Juneau.

When the Inupiat whalers left the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo after the IWC had imposed a bowhead subsistence quota of twelve whales they were angry and disappointed, and at a hastily-called news conference at the New Otani Hotel, NSB Mayor Eben Hopson read a statement before an NBC camera crew that indicated that the whalers might ignore the ban. Returning to Alaska, Hopson tested the political winds and found that the Inupiat whalers enjoyed strong political support.

In Juneau for the Alaska Coastal Management Council, Hopson got the Council to pass a strong resolution supporting the work of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and calling upon the Federal government to cooperate fully with the AEWC’s whale stocks management and research program. This was a signal to the Department of Commerce that the State of Alaska recognized the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to be part of the Arctic Coastal Zone Management Program.

This is important because the national Coastal Zone Management Program is operated by Commerce through such State agencies as the Alaska Coastal Management Council, and now the State Coastal Management Plan will most likely include the work of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, responsible for enforcing the IWC quota, waited until after the Christmas holiday season to press for an official AEWC response to the new bowhead quota, and the Commission meet in Barrow January 23rd and 24th to deal with the problem.

After considerable debate, the 24 captains (three from each of eight whaling villages) finally voted to enforce the IWC quota, and to cooperate with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s bowhead research plans for 1978. Their decision to cooperate was conditional upon stipulations that the NMFS would recognize the work through the AEWC Management Plan.

Section 100.26(d) of which reads “the carrying capacity of the bowhead whale stock shall be determined by a Scientific Committee appointed by the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

The AEWC is being assisted in the organization of this special Scientific committee by David Hickok, director of the University of Alaska’s Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center. Hickok is a prominent member of the NAS Polar Research Board.

Just as last month’s meeting of the AEWC ended, Sam Raddi, President of the Canadian Inuvialuit’s Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement (COPE), Inuvik, NWT, called NSB Mayor Eben Hopson to say that he had been contacted by the Canadian government about Canada’s bowhead and beluga whale research plans,and he wanted to insure that Canada cooperated with the plans and programs of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

The NMFS Plan for an Expanded Bowhead Whale Research Program designed for the Tokyo IWC meeting was revised and brought to the AEWC for approval. the NMFS propose a three-year research program for bowhead migration surveillance from the ice, from vessels, and from fixed-wing aircraft. The 1978 effort would cost about $700,000, and employ about forty persons, including a large number of whalers, in an effort to begin an accurate bowhead population count. In addition to surface and aerial surveillance, the NMFS would experiment with underwater acoustic and sonar technology to determine the feasibility for the emplacement of an array of listening devices tuned to bowhead vocalization frequencies.

Last August, the North Slope borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission drafted a proposed comprehensive bowhead whale research plan that would rely heavily upon acoustic technology and nuclear electric-drive submarines to learn about the health and sociology of the bowhead whale throughout its range.

Famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer and scientist Dr. Thomas Poulter worked with Barrow’s Leffingwell Ericklook and Robert Okpeaha in the late 1960s to record whale vocalizations with the use of geophones lowered into the leads during spring bowhead migrations. These investigators reported being able to identify bowhead from beluga and grey whales, determine age, and identify lactating females with calves just from raw tape recordings, and the AEWC regards bowhead voice-printing to be the main objective in the development of reliable bowhead stocks census, management and research programs. Dr. Poulter, now 80, is now with the Stanford Research Institute at Palo Alto, California.

While in Juneau in December for the Alaska Coastal Management Council meeting, NSB Mayor Eben Hopson met with several legislators, one of whom, Rep. Thelma Buchholdt (D), Anchorage, sponsored legislation in support of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and this legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Kotzebue’s Senator Frank Ferguson, and the Senate Resources Committee quickly scheduled hearings on SJR 37, SB 439 and SB 440. The Senate Joint Resolution calls upon the Federal Government to cooperate with the AEWC and fund a comprehensive program of bowhead whale research. SB 439 authorizes the State to fund non-profit corporations for the purpose of whale research. And SB 440 appropriates $250,000 to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the purpose of funding the AEWC through grants and contracts.

AEWC Chairman Jacob Adams, Barrow Whaling Captains Association President Arnold Brower Sr., and NSB Washington Liaison and AEWC Secretary-Treasurer Dale Stotts traveled to Juneau to testify before joint Senate-House Resource Committee hearings. Adams suggested “that this legislation will enable the State to join with subsistence hunters and the Federal government to design a prototype cooperative management system able to deal with a single migratory species throughout its range … and capable of honoring and upholding Native subsistence hunting rights.” The Whalers’ Juneau testimony was taped for evening broadcast via satellite, and was viewed that evening by the residents of Gambell, Savoonga and other whaling villages equipped with satellite TV receiving stations.

The Whalers would like to see the State of Alaska and its Fish and Game Department join with the AEWC and the NMFS to work out a cooperative management regime that might be used for the management of other species, such as seals, walrus, and the caribou.

The Department of fish and Game was absent from the hearings when the whalers testified on Friday, but showed up the following Monday to testify against the legislation, citing lack of State jurisdiction and unwillingness to get involved with the AEWC. As this testimony was being delivered by Fish and Game representatives, Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Skoog was holding hearings in Barrow, and Hopson was able to get Skoog to agree to call his office in Juneau to instruct his people to support the AEWC legislation. Skoog told Hopson that while he wanted his Department to cooperate with the AEWC, he did not want his Department in the middle between the AEWC and NMFS, or to have to administer a bowhead whale management program.

At this writing, AEWC attorney Ellen Patridge had drafted the memorandum of agreement between the AEWC and the NMFS and it was in the mail to Jacob Adams for his review. It appeared that what once looked like inevitable conflict had been replaced by a state of hopeful and helpful cooperation between the Inupiat whalers and the Federal government.

Many Alaskans hope that the experience of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission can enable the State to avoid conflict over subsistence hunting regulations and subsistence game management objectives after D-2 legislation has defined State jurisdiction over game and habitat for which the Federal government has the legal trust responsibility to protect the Native subsistence use.