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Murkowski, Young Urge USFWS to Uphold the Law and Allow Access to Alaska Refuges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young (both R-Alaska) today sent a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe insisting that commercial hunting and fishing guides and air taxi operators with valid permits be allowed to continue to operate in National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.

Unlike other Department of the Interior agencies, the USFWS has taken steps to prohibit access to refuges in Alaska. USFWS managers notified guides and other operators across the state at the beginning of October – a critical time for Alaskans who depend on hunting and fishing for their livelihood – that special-use permits were being suspended during the federal government shutdown.

Murkowski and Young said the decision violated Alaskans’ right to access their lands under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and was unnecessarily harming the ability of Alaskans to hunt, fish, and earn a living.

“Many Alaskans depend upon air taxi operators for their rightful access to lands that provide sustenance for subsistence purposes. By suspending air taxi permits, the USFWS has effectively disallowed basic access rights legally granted through Section 1110(a) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Under that law, Alaska’s Refuges are mandatorily open to hunting and access is guaranteed,” Murkowski and Young wrote. “Further, the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 made hunting a priority public use. More important, once hunting is found to be a compatible activity in a Refuge, the Act requires the USFWS to facilitate it. While the agency may not have funds to actively facilitate hunting during the shutdown, there is no question that any closure edict runs contrary to the letter and spirit of this law, as well.”

The 16 National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska cover 76.8 million acres – all managed by the USFWS. 

“You must understand that your actions are having a dramatic impact on many Alaskans’ ability to feed and care for themselves. You have denied access and closed lands that Alaskans depend on, and which are legally required to remain open. We urge you to immediately revoke your agency’s current order and closures and to fully afford Alaskans the rights granted to them under federal law,” Murkowski and Young wrote.

The full letter is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.

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