Rep. Young proposing Alaska Natives control park and refuge jobs

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Rep. Don Young is proposing that control over some federal jobs in Alaska's parks and refuges be transferred to as many as 12 Alaska Native tribes.

Young's bill, which he introduced in mid-May, states that no federal employees should lose their jobs in the transfer of control. Rather, the employees should be assigned to work for the tribes under provisions of an existing federal law allowing for intergovernmental employee sharing.

The U.S. House Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the contracting bill and other Alaska-related legislation June 5.

Young stated in the bill's introduction that the intent is to promote innovative management, to expand Alaska Native contracting and local employment, and to make sure park and refuge rules protect subsistence uses and Native culture.

Denali National Park and Preserve would be exempted from the transfer. However, some employees of the Kanuti and Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuges, based in Fairbanks and Galena respectively, would be transferred to the Koyukuk River Moose Co-Management Team, Inc.

The transfer to the Koyukuk moose team is the only transfer specifically ordered by the bill. The team is a consortium of village tribal governments from the Koyukuk and upper Yukon area.

The bill also lays out the justification for the transfers.

It notes that Congress, when it passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, created more than 100 million acres of new parks and refuges, many of them near or surrounding villages where the majority of residents are Alaska Natives.

Young's bill notes that several sections of the 1980 act encouraged federal land managers to work with local Native entities in carrying out their duties.

Visitor facilities are supposed to be built on Native corporation land, if the corporation agrees. Native corporations and local residents are to be given a preference in any contracting for visitor services. And people with ''special knowledge'' about the area who apply for federal jobs are exempt from training and education requirements.

John Quinley, National Park Service spokesman in Anchorage, said his agency conducted a program to boost local hire at parks and preserves in Northwest Alaska and sent a report on its success to Congress six months ago.

The four units now employ 33 people, half of whom were brought on using local hire authority and a quarter of whom are Alaska Native, he said. About half of the Park Service's 450 Alaska employees work at field sites, he said.

Karen Boylan, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said about 250 people work across Alaska on refuge staffs. That includes 11 employees with the Kanuti refuge, which covers the flatlands located south of Bettles and west of the Dalton Highway.

Ten of those people work in Fairbanks and one in Bettles. Another 17 employees work in Galena at the office that manages both the Koyukuk and Nowitna refuges.

The Koyukuk refuge covers most of the Koyukuk River flats, downstream from the Kanuti flats. The bill specifically orders the Interior Department to enter contracts with the Koyukuk River Moose Co-Management Team, Inc.

Young's spokeswoman, Amy Inaba, said the Koyukuk co-management team made the request to transfer refuge work to itself. The proposal also came up last month in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C.

Cathie Harms, spokeswoman for the state Division of Wildlife Conservation in Fairbanks, said managers have been working hard to include local people in management plans for the Koyukuk area. Harms said the Department of Fish and Game supports that goal of Young's legislation.

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