Johnny Hawk &

Not disclosed-9 villagers

illegally killed 226 geese and other migratory birds

Chagvan Bay, AK

Bethel Census Area

May 11, 1991

Several village hunters in southwest Alaska are in trouble with federal wildlife authorities after agents found them in a remote camp with 226 illegally killed geese and other migratory birds.

No criminal charges have been filed, but U.S. Attorney Wev Shea said that the hunters may face charges of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The seizure of the birds, at Chagvan Bay on the Bering Sea coast, comes as federal agents have stepped up enforcement of the ban on spring hunting of waterfowl in Alaska, particularly for several threatened species of geese.

Officials reported that the chief executive of the Bethel-based Calista Native Corp., Johnny Hawk, may face charges after he was found carrying a duffel bag full of dead geese through the Anchorage airport after a hunting trip to western Alaska.

The latest seizure came when federal agents learned of possible illegal hunting along the southern coast of the Kuskokwim Bay, a major flyway for thousands of migrating birds and location of a number of spring hunting camps.

Roger Parker, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said two agents flew to the bay from Bethel and found the hunters with 198 black brant, a species of goose, along with 16 emperor geese, five cackling Canada geese, five white-fronted geese, one pintail duck and one jaeger all illegal, he said.

Biologists have been trying for years to limit the hunting of geese on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. Populations of several species, especially black brant, fell perilously low in the 1970s.

Goose populations have been steadily rebounding since an agreement between the government and Yup'ik Eskimo hunters helped bring spring hunting under some control. But enforcement of the spring hunting ban on the vast delta tundra is virtually impossible, officials have said, and some hunting of ducks and geese by villagers has been ignored by federal authorities, especially in areas where the spring waterfowl hunts are one of the few sources of fresh protein.

This spring, however, federal authorities decided to step up efforts in western Alaska on two fronts, Parker said by increasing education about the hunting ban and stepping enforcement of the law, especially involving geese.

A statement issued by the U.S. attorney's office said nine men were apprehended at Chagvan Bay, but listed the names of only seven. The statement said five are from Goodnews Bay, one from Napaskiak and the seventh's address was unknown.

Under terms of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Goose Management Plan, a town meeting was held in Goodnews Bay to talk about the violations before any charges are filed. At least some residents are skeptical of the hunting ban, saying geese appear plentiful.

"When I'm down there hunting there's birds all over the place," said Walter Galila, a Goodnews Bay hunter not implicated in the seizure. He said Yup'ik hunters in the village prefer geese over ducks and other smaller species because they provide more meat.

"We're just packing up for the winter," he said. "People don't see anything wrong with it."

Parker, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said agents seized some of the 226 illegally taken birds but allowed the hunters to keep the bulk of them. That was partly because the agents only had so much room in their Super Cub, but also because "our intent isn't to take food out of people's mouths."

Update 4/6/93:  With millions of geese and migratory ducks due to arrive on the western Alaska tundra starting later this month, a new agreement has been struck between Yup'ik hunters and federal wildlife authorities on the often-stormy issue of spring waterfowl hunting. Native leaders and federal officials have agreed to extend for two more years the decade-old cooperative plan to protect threatened goose populations. People on both sides said the tension level appears lower this spring than it's been in some time.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Goose Management Plan includes hunting bans or restrictions in Alaska and the Lower 48 on four threatened species of geese: emperor, cackling Canada, white-fronted and black brant. Aside from Natives and the federal government, other parties to the agreement are the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and similar agencies from California, Oregon and Washington.

Several amendments this year came after a turbulent spring hunting season in the Delta a year ago, including angry confrontations between villagers and federal law enforcement officials.

Much of the controversy had to do with complaints by villagers that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was setting up surveillance camps in nesting areas without notifying local residents, and that the agency was too heavy- handed in dealing with villagers. At one stormy meeting, hunters tore up copies of the agreement in front of federal agents.

The amended agreement includes a provision barring the government from setting up monitoring camps on Native corporation land. Camps can be established on federal land much of the Delta only after notification of the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Native regional nonprofit organization.

The agreement also includes a new ban on the use of helicopters by federal authorities. Villagers argued they were noisy and disruptive. It also requires Fish and Wildlife to outline enforcement activities for the season by April 15 every year. The government rejected a request from villagers for more village involvement in enforcement, but agreed to increase cross-cultural training for enforcement agents.

The new plan also opens the possibility of limited hunting next year for one of the protected species cackling Canada geese. While still far below population levels in the 1960s and '70s, the number of cackling geese estimated at 120,000 is above the level government biologists say can support limited hunting.

Sport hunters in the Lower 48, as well as some villagers, have been pressing for resumed hunting, although other villagers and government officials argued they should hold off at least another year to allow populations to continue to climb.

AVCP President Myron Naneng said villagers would still like more local involvement in the plan, but said he thought Natives in the region were generally happy with it. Two of the four protected species have shown healthy population increases, according to biologists, while the other two have sustained their numbers.

"In terms of the increases in waterfowl, I think everybody should be happy," he said. "The Native people in the past were being blamed for the declines, when the hunts by our people weren't as much as in the Lower 48. We've always been conservationists."

Ron Perry, superintendent of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, said, "We've still got a long way to go; not everybody's in agreement and it's not a perfect plan. But I've been through this nine years, and I feel better about it this year than I have in some time."

The Y-K plan emerged in the mid-1980s following crashes of several species of geese. As much as half of the world's population of black brants nest in the Y-K Delta, and as many as 90 percent of the cacklers, emperors and white- fronts.

Native leaders in the region have gone along with efforts to control hunting to increase goose populations. But the agreement and efforts to enforce it have often resulted in tension between hunters and law enforcement agents.

Federal law and international treaties have long banned spring and summer hunting on most species of migratory waterfowl in Alaska. Alaska Natives, however, have traditionally hunted waterfowl in the spring, when winter stocks of food have been depleted or run out.

Under the Y-K plan, Natives agreed to a complete ban on hunting of cackling and emperor geese, and to not take white-fronted and black brant during the laying, brooding and nesting periods, and not to take the eggs of the four species.

In return, federal officials have largely ignored illegal spring hunting of ducks in the region. Compliance with the goose-hunting ban has not been complete throughout the region, with some village hunters resentful of any government interference.

The region is roughly the size of South Carolina, and enforcement has sometimes been difficult. Native organizations launched a public-relations blitz to persuade village hunters to obey the ban.

There have been several well-publicized busts of village hunters for illegally taking large numbers of geese, however. Johnny Hawk , the president of the Calista Regional Corp., was arrested two years ago when he arrived at the Anchorage airport with a bag of illegal geese, and as part of his sentence, he made a television commercial, in English and Yup'ik, admonishing hunters to follow the goose-hunting bans.


Anchorage Daily News