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Federal board adopts long-awaited regulatory change to hunting wolves and wolverines in Bristol Bay

Steve Dubois
This photo was published in an ADFG pamphlet “Understanding Intensive Predator Management in Alaska,” part of the Department’s efforts in 2012 to educate the public about practices that have been controversial, especially to observers outside Alaska.

A change in Bristol Bay's federal regulations this month provided some long-awaited clarity to hunting in Game Management Units 9B, 9C, and all of Unit 17. Federally-qualified subsistence users — rural residents — can now legally “approach and pursue” wolves and wolverines on federal lands while hunting on snowmachine as long as the animals "are not shot from a moving machine."

The Federal Subsistence Board adopted the proposal at its meeting earlier this month. It’s the latest iteration of a proposal the Bristol Bay Regional Advisory Council has worked on for years, saying that pursuing animals on snowmachine has become a traditional practice in Bristol Bay.

Council Chair Nanci Morris-Lyon said the proposal was originally suggested by hunters in Manokotak and Koliganek and has been in the works for about five years.

“We had a really hard time having the Federal Subsistence Board understand it and agree to it, mostly because their company policy, a lot of times, was in conflict with it," she said. “We got sent back to reevaluate and restructure the proposal a number of times. The State of Alaska had approved this type of hunting at their last Board of Game meeting. There are several other areas in the state that have allowed it already in the past. And now we were finally able to get the federal board to agree that this should be an acceptable method for hunting.” 

Hunting methods in Bristol Bay have changed over time; until the late 1960s people generally walked or used dog sleds. In the 1970s more hunters started to use motorboats, snowmachines and airplanes, including these methods in traditional harvesting.

Morris-Lyon said some of the opposition to this proposal has come from people who think this will allow hunters to chase animals to the point of exhaustion.

“We all need to monitor that and make sure that that does not happen. But that is no reason for hunters that are out in the field trying to legally take predatory animals to not be able to use this as a method,” she said.

In an analysis, the Office of Subsistence Management said using snowmachines is now part of a traditional and local method of hunting: “Adopting the proposal may simply legalize a practice that is already occurring," which also means this change may not significantly affect the number of wolves or wolverines harvested.

During the Board of Game meeting last spring, the state adopted a similar proposal that applies to any Alaska resident. But not all hunts on federal public lands are open to all state residents. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Affairs Specialist Andrea Medeiros said in an email that federal lands may also be closed to hunting by non-federally qualified users. If that were to happen, this regulation would allow rural hunters to continue using snowmachines in this way.

Morris-Lyon said the federal board's adoption of this proposal clearly aligns state and federal regulations.

“The reason we needed this proposal to pass on the Federal Subsistence Board side is because federal subsistence regulations apply on federal lands," she said. "And in our region, there are a lot of federal lands that we use for hunting.”

Morris-Lyon said it feels good to have this hunting method “acknowledged and accepted” and expects other areas of the state may follow suit.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.