The Proposed Guide Concession Program and Why RHAK Opposes It
What is the purpose and rationale of the proposed Guide Concession Program (GCP)?
The Alaska Professional Hunters Association (APHA) proposed the GCP in 2008 with the intent to limit big game guides, saying: “Currently, overcrowding of guides on State lands combined with decreasing wildlife populations is stimulating social disorder between hunter user groups and biological harm to our wildlife, which leads to establishment of the restrictive drawing permit hunts.”
Reference: APHA letter to Palin Administration requesting state funding for proposed GCP in 2008
Are “too many guides” really the problem causing “biological harm” to our wildlife populations that leads to restrictive drawing hunts for all?
No, the problem has never been too many guides. The problem has always been too many nonresident hunters who are required to hire a guide being given unlimited opportunity to hunt and harvest certain species by the Board of Game.
When the state requires nearly all nonresident hunters (there is an exception for those hunting with a resident relative within 2nd degree of kindred) to hire a guide to hunt a specific species of animal that is a public resource, and then that public resource is harmed and residents lose general hunting opportunities, the problem is not the guides; it is the nonresident hunter who must be guided who is the one legally hunting and harvesting the animal and “taking” from a public resource.
This issue of too many nonresident guided hunters causing these (and more) problems is a large part of why Resident Hunters of Alaska was formed, after more than a decade of resident hunters petitioning the BOG to limit nonresident guided hunters with absolutely no action by the Board of Game.
The Board of Game regulates hunters and acknowledged these problems a decade ago but has done nothing to fix them. The BOG supports only one solution: The guide-lobby preferred Guide Concession Program.
What regulatory body oversees guides, and why can’t that body impose limits?
The Big Game Commercial Services Board (BGCSB) regulates big game guides and has the authority to limit guides at no cost to the state via various regulatory mechanisms. (These mechanisms are described in DNR planning documents as no-cost alternatives to the GCP.)
Remember, the Guide Concession Program is ostensibly about the need to limit big game guides. If anything can make clear what a ruse this entire proposed program is, it is the words of the guide-industry lobbyist this session telling legislators that the problem is an “unregulated guide industry on state lands” as a way of trying to sell the notion that guides are “unlimited” on state lands and the only solution for that is the proposed GCP.
When the guide lobby says that we have an “unregulated guide industry on state lands,” what they are really saying is that the board that oversees and regulates their industry is not doing its job!
The Big Game Commercial Services Board is on record along with the guide lobby in saying there are “too many guides” and has the clear authority to limit guides. Yet the BGCSB has licensed 200 new guides since 2015! The guide lobby is right; the board that regulates their industry is not doing its job!
Reference DCCED Professional Licensing Statistics 2016: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=30&docid=11400
Is the Department of Natural Resources capable of overseeing a Guide Concession Program?
DNR has long had difficulty enforcing the land use permits guides are required to have to operate on state lands. This year DNR will increase the bonding fees guides must pay for their land use permits because the cost of cleaning up what guides leave behind when their permits are revoked or not renewed has up until now been borne by the state. Even with increased staff specifically for the GCP, the Department of Natural Resources is tasked with land use permitting issues and is simply not capable of regulating big game guides. We already have a board tasked with the responsibility of regulating the big game guiding industry: the Big Game Commercial Services Board. Because that board isn’t doing its job is no reason to believe that the burden of regulating guides should be placed on DNR.
Will the GCP benefit resident hunters and the resource?
No, we see no benefit to resident hunters or the resource if the proposed GCP is implemented according to the "final" DNR plan.
Over several years and a half-million-dollar expense, DNR held public meetings on the proposed GCP and as more and more guides opposed it more and more changes were made to assuage and cater to the opposition.
For example, the number of assistant guides a concessionaire could hire kept increasing until the hiring of 6 assistant guides would be allowed for Full Concession winners. Concessions are not always exclusive. Some guide use areas would allow multiple concessions within one guide use area.
A prime example is guide use area 20-04, one of the known “problem” areas south of Fairbanks on the north side of the Alaska range where nonresident guided sheep hunters harvest 60% of the sheep and guide vs guide and guided vs unguided conflicts continue. Under the current DNR GCP plan, guide use area 20-04 would allow 5 Full Concessions and 3 limited concessions. (Limited concessions only allow 1 assistant guide). The end result is that 8 contracting guides would have a monopoly on contracting hunts in guide use area 20-04 with an allowance of 41 total guides to be out in the field within that one area. There are no limits within the current GCP plan as to how many clients each concessionaire could run nor how many animals those clients could harvest.
Contrary to what the guide lobby has said, there is no “fully developed” DNR GCP plan. One of the most important aspects of any guide concession program is who will decide how applicants who submit prospectuses will be scored and who will win a concession. The "final" DNR plan never determined the actual makeup of the panel that would decide these matters, and more importantly any required involvement from ADFG biologists and managers in determining how many animals of each species would or should be allowed to be taken by guided hunters in these concession areas. There are also no honest projected fiscal costs of involving staff from other agencies and/or boards in the program. These are all part of the reason why the legislature did not approve of the program.
It's also important to acknowledge that when guides are allowed "exclusive" areas, this gives them more leverage to hinder access by resident hunters with business arrangements they make with transporters and air taxis to not fly others into "their" area.
What would benefit resident hunters, and what needs to happen, is for nonresident guided hunters to be limited so residents have a clear and substantial hunting and harvest priority.
What is the current status of the GCP?
Legislation to authorize the GCP was introduced during the 28th legislative session as SB 160 and HB 158, but neither the House nor Senate approved, and it never made it to a floor vote in either chamber, for reasons that went well beyond the troubling 1-million-dollar fiscal note. It has remained dead-on-arrival in the legislature since that time.
The Alaska Professional Hunters Association and Safari Club International were successful during the 30th legislative session (2017) working behind closed doors with members of the Senate Finance committee to insert federal receipt authority for one-million dollars into the state operating budget for “wildfire suppression activities” that would be covertly diverted to “reactivate and implement” the proposed DNR GCP, thereby bypassing full public and legislative oversight and approval. Neither the U.S. Congress, nor most legislators, are aware that these federal funds dedicated to fight wildfires in Alaska would actually go to fund a state-run guide concession program.
Those federal funds are not yet allocated and RHAK is asking that if those federal funds come through that the proposed DNR Guide Concession Program still have a full public review and approval by the full legislature before being implemented.
Whether one supports or opposes the Guide Concession Program, we should all agree that it must go through the open public process and be approved by the legislature, instead of being funded and enacted by clandestine and underhanded methods.
The state of Alaska has two regulatory boards specifically charged with dealing with hunting allocation/wildlife management issues, and big game guides. Those boards should do their jobs to fix the known problems the GCP ostensibly seeks to address. The last thing we need is a land management agency involved in regulating hunting or guides, and for the federal government to be involved in wildlife management on state lands by covertly jump-starting a program our very own legislature did not approve of.
DNR Alternatives to the Proposed Guide Concession Program
The DNR plan for the proposed GCP offered several alternatives to solve the known problems of too many guided nonresident hunters that could be accomplished by the BOG and/or the BGCSB. Below are potential alternatives to consider, quoted from the DNR planning documents:
“The first BOG [Board of Game] alternative to the GCP is for the board to further restrict non-resident hunting opportunity. This could be accomplished by expanding the drawing and/or registration permit systems for non-residents, while simultaneously reducing or eliminating non-resident general harvest seasons and bag limits. This alternative would help to address the issues of quality of experience and conflicts between users by decreasing the number of non-resident hunters in the field. It may also address wildlife conservation concerns in cases where overharvest is an issue.”
“The second BOG alternative to the GCP is for the board to establish a specific harvest level for non-resident hunters. The BOG would allocate a percentage of the harvestable surplus, such as 10%, to non-residents, potentially statewide and for all species, and the vehicle for this system would likely be drawing permits. This is different than the first alternative in that the allocation to non-residents would be fixed at a percentage of surplus rather than just reducing opportunity as needed.”
“The first BGCSB alternative to the GCP is for the board to reduce the number of GUAs [guide use areas] a guide could register for. Currently a guide in the state of Alaska can register in three GUAs per year (not including Predator Control Areas). Reducing the number of GUAs a guide can register for could reduce the number of guides in a GUA, which would address the issues of quality of experience and user conflicts.”
“The second BGCSB alternative to the GCP would be to increase the overall number of GUAs by subdividing or reducing the size of existing GUAs. Guides would still be able to register for three areas but would have to choose between more, albeit smaller areas. This alternative could result in fewer conflicts among users by spreading out hunting pressure.”