Global Agriculture

Agriculture and Interior Departments Propose Changes to Strengthen Alaska Tribal Representation on Federal Subsistence Board

18 February 2024, US: The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior today announced a proposal to strengthen Alaska Tribal representation on the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB), which manages subsistence use on federal lands and waters in Alaska. For thousands of years, subsistence practices have been immensely important for Alaska Native communities, and remain deeply intertwined with their lifeways, food security, and cultures.

The Departments are proposing to add three additional public members to the FSB who will be nominated by federally recognized Tribal governments in Alaska. The three additional members will possess personal knowledge of and direct experience with subsistence uses in rural Alaska, including Alaska Native subsistence uses, and will be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior with the concurrence of the Secretary of Agriculture. In addition, the Chair will be required to have personal knowledge of and experience with rural subsistence uses.

The Federal Subsistence Management Program is jointly managed by both the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. It is overseen by the FSB, which administers the subsistence priority and manages regulations for the use of fish and wildlife resources for subsistence purposes on federal public lands and waters in Alaska. The FSB also contributes substantially to fisheries knowledge by funding research on the status of fish stocks, subsistence harvest and use patterns, and the collection and analysis of traditional knowledge. The board is currently comprised of five members from federal agencies and three public members.

“Honoring our general trust responsibility and fostering greater collaboration with our Indigenous partners is a key goal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Incorporating Indigenous knowledge that has been gained over millennium into our Federal Subsistence decision-making is an important step in that effort.”

“Since time immemorial, subsistence practices have played a central role in meeting the nutritional, social, economic, spiritual and cultural needs of Alaska Native people,” said Secretary Deb Haaland, who discussed the proposal in keynote remarks at the National Congress of American Indians. “By strengthening Indigenous representation on the Federal Subsistence Board, we seek to not only preserve these important traditions, but to fully recognize Tribal sovereignty and ensure the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge for future subsistence-related planning. When Indigenous communities are at the table, everyone who enjoys a subsistence lifestyle has more opportunities to thrive.”

Strengthening nation-to-nation relationships is core to the work of the Department and a priority of the Biden-Harris administration. The proposed changes to the FSB reflect the meaningful role Tribal consultation holds and the Administration’s commitment to speaking with and listening to Tribal leaders when making decisions that impact their communities.

The proposal to add representatives to the FSB follows extensive consultations by the Biden-Harris administration between hundreds of Tribes and Tribal consortia. In 2022, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hosted a listening session and three Tribal and Alaska Native Corporation consultation sessions on how to improve the Federal Subsistence Management Program.

Comments compiled from these sessions in the Federal Subsistence Policy Consultation Summary Report pointed to the adverse impacts that the changing climate is having on Alaska Native subsistence practices and Alaska Native and rural communities; the need to expand Tribal partnerships and the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge into subsistence management; and the need for greater Tribal representation within the federal subsistence management system. Tribes and Tribal consortia also requested that the chair of the FSB be required to possess personal knowledge and experience with subsistence uses in rural Alaska to ensure that they understand the scope and impact that the board’s decisions have on all subsistence users. This enhanced input and perspective will safeguard subsistence opportunities for all federally qualified subsistence users.

The proposal, as well as information about how to submit public comment, will be available in the Federal Register in the coming days. A separate notice will be shared with Tribal leaders regarding nation-to-nation consultation.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across USDA by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of the Nation.

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