Judge rejects state's lawsuit against Kake subsistence hunt

JUNEAU (AP) — A U.S. District Court judge has rejected a challenge by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to a special subsistence hunt authorized for a Southeast Alaska tribe by a federal board last year.

The Organized Village of Kake in spring 2020 requested an emergency hunt, citing food security concerns amid the pandemic. The Federal Subsistence Board granted a limited season of up to 60 days, and the harvest was distributed to 135 households in the village, according to filings with the court.

The normal hunting season doesn’t begin until the fall. The federal board authorized the limited hunt in June. Residents took two moose and five deer.

The governor’s administration sued against the federal decision, claiming there was no food security risk and that the special hunt excluded other Alaskans. The lawsuit also said the subsistence board’s action was an example of federal overreach.

The state’s lawsuit also raised a number of procedural objections to allowing the special hunt. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, in her Dec. 3 ruling, rejected all of the state’s arguments.

Tension between state and federal authorities over subsistence rights goes back decades.

The Native American Rights Fund, which offered legal assistance to the tribe, welcomed the ruling.

“The Organized Village of Kake, like many Alaska Native communities, relies on subsistence hunting to ensure food security for its tribal citizens,” Matthew Newman, a staff attorney with the fund, said in a statement. He said federal authorities did well to work with a Native community like Kake, concerned about its food security, and that the court “made the right decision when it held that the board acted within its authority.”

The judge also rejected the state’s objections to the federal board excluding urban hunters from harvesting moose in an area of the Interior, which the subsistence board determined was needed for public safety.

Aaron Sadler, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law, said the state was considering an appeal. He called the ruling “contradictory” to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and said the state maintains the subsistence board “overstepped its authority.”

 

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