Federal and State agencies acknowledge harmful impacts of past bird harvest prohibitions

photo by Greg Lincoln

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) formally issued an apology to Alaska Native peoples for the unintended consequences of implementation of migratory bird harvest prohibitions.

The apology was issued to recognize hardships Alaska Native families experienced from implementation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in the 1960s and 70s. Under the Act, the migratory bird harvest was prohibited between Mar. 10 and Sept. 1 throughout the United States, including Alaska. By outlawing the spring-summer harvest of migratory birds and their eggs, Alaska Natives lost an important subsistence food source—and in many cases were forced to hunt illegally to feed their families.

The MBTA was signed into law in 1918 to protect migratory bird populations which were severely depleted by commercial hunting. The act was amended in 1997 to allow for the spring-summer subsistence harvest by rural Alaska residents in an effort led by Alaska Native leaders. The first legal spring-summer migratory bird hunt was held in 2003.

The amended Act also directed that a co-equal partnership of federal, state, and Alaska Native representatives be established to manage the subsistence migratory bird hunts. The Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC) was established in 2003. ADF&G and the USFWS both hold seats on the AMBCC.

The formal apology from USFWS and ADF&G to Alaska Native peoples was delivered to the AMBCC by USFWS Regional Director Greg Siekaniec and ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotton, September 13, 2018 at the AMBCC fall meeting.