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Duck stamp proposal exempting Alaska Natives takes wing

Alex DeMarban

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is supporting legislation containing a measure that would increase the cost of duck stamps for all migratory waterfowl hunters except Alaska Native subsistence hunters, who wouldn't have to buy a stamp.

That's the word from Sen. Mark Begich, who introduced the measure last spring, saying Alaska Natives have done their part to preserve waterfowl habitat. He expanded on that thought in a press release announcing his measure's latest progress, arguing that Natives have already given up many of their traditional hunting grounds. He's referring to federally owned public lands in Alaska that help protect globe-trotting birds.  

$15 fee for years

Migratory waterfowl hunters have been required to buy the stamp, which looks like a postage stamp, since 1934. The fee, locked at $15 since 1991, has raised some$750 million and helped buy more than 5 million acres of wetland habitat for birds and hunters.

Begich's provision would allow for increases to deal with inflation and keep the program viable, his office said in a release. The Interior Secretary and the Migratory Bird Commission would consider adjusting the price every three years. The secretary and the commission would also decide whether Native subsistence hunters should be exempted from buying the stamp.

"It’s our intent to pursue that and we believe it will be granted," said Amy Miller, Begich's spokeswoman.

In practice, Alaska Native subsistence hunters have been exempted from the law for decades. That began to change in 2001, when the Interior Department's regional solicitor in Alaska issued an opinion saying Natives needed the stamps for spring and summer hunts. Many Alaska Natives still refuse to pay.

Vote coming soon

Opponents say forking over cash for the stamps is not part of their subsistence hunting tradition. They argue on economic terms, too, saying many subsistence hunters can't afford the stamps.

Begich's proposal has been wrapped into the Sportsman's Act of 2012, which stalled last week over a budget technicality, Begich's office reported. But the act was resurrected after a group of senators reached a deal allowing it to move forward. Begich is  hopeful it will be voted on in the coming days.

The sportsmen's act would "improve access to hunting and fishing on federal lands,” end the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of lead ammunition and authorize several other vital conservation programs for wetlands, fish and wildlife," Begich said.  

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com