Since the mid-1990s, the primary way in which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has engaged with Alaska Native organizations (ANOs) on marine mammal co-management has been through Cooperative Agreements authorized under Section 119 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Such agreements have operated mainly as grants, identifying activities and work to be conducted, and providing funding for ANOs to carry out such work and activities. While Cooperative Agreements have been an important step in developing co-management relationships between ANOs and the USFWS, true co-management cannot be achieved without powers and authorities of both parties being formalized.
Upon its formation, one of ANCC’s first priorities was to begin development of a Co-Management Agreement with the USFWS. The purpose of the Co-Management Agreement would be to delineate the powers and authorities of each party, as well as individual and collective roles and responsibilities of each co-management partner in relation to polar bears in Alaska. Such an agreement would create a more balanced co-management relationship for polar bears than has existed in the past, creating more space for Alaska Natives to sustainably self-manage subsistence harvests and allowing for more equitable inclusion of Alaska Natives in decision-making processes. The Co-Management Agreement is not meant to address funding – only to formalize the co-management relationship between ANCC and USFWS. Ideally, once a Co-Management Agreement is in place, a Cooperative Agreement can be developed to fund work associated with the roles and responsibilities established under the Co-Management Agreement.
In early 2018 ANCC developed the first draft of a Co-Management Agreement, and began negotiations with the USFWS on the draft language. ANCC and USFWS have since continued negotiations and identified areas requiring further clarification. Throughout this process, ANCC has conducted outreach among its member tribes in order to ensure that the agreement language will meet the needs of the tribes and hunters.