Cabins, Parks, and People: Subsistence and the National Park Service in Northwest Alaska

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Susan Clark
Essay Abstract: 
Residents of the Northwest Arctic Borough (NWAB) on Alaska’s northwest coast still live a subsistence way of life, reliant on the land for their economic, social, and cultural well-being. Parts of five national parklands lie within the NWAB, making the National Park Service (NPS) responsible for managing large areas of the region. The relationship between the NPS and NWAB residents has long been contentious, and NWAB residents interviewed in the summer of 2011 expressed disappointment and frustration with NPS management. The tensions between residents of the region and the NPS are based in failures of process. Short-tenure superintendents, ineffective mechanisms for local involvement, long delays in NPS actions, and the pressure imposed on the agency from both inside and outside cause problems for subsistence management. Incentivizing longer-term superintendents, holding them accountable for maintaining relationships with locals, building more effective mechanisms for local input, better incorporating that input into management, better communicating NPS goals, and avoiding explosive incidents would improve both the management process and relationships between NWAB residents and the NPS in northwest Alaska.