JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Native tribal governments and other communities have submitted emergency requests to hunt out of season as the coronavirus pandemic causes food supply concerns.
At least six small localities across the state have been waiting nearly two months for responses to their applications for special hunting permission, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Sunday.
The federal Office of Subsistence Management is fielding multiple requests and is expected to address the issue at an upcoming meeting this month.
The agency responds to emergency hunting actions on federal land, while Alaska has its own process to handle requests for actions on state land.
U.S. Forest Service ranger districts have been delegated with authority to grant emergency hunting actions for rural subsistence residents, but a state entity must confirm the need.
Alaska's Unified Command, a central hub for various state agencies to respond to emergency situations, has been tasked by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to make food need assessments in remote communities.
Joel Jackson, tribal president of the Organized Village of Kake, said he requested emergency action in April because grocery shelves were not fully stocked.
Jackson did not expect the process would take so long after he approached federal employees about opening the deer and moose season earlier than normal. The decision has been passed around to different levels of agencies, Jackson said.
Food scarcity is not the only concern fueling the hunting request, he said.
Shipments of food are arriving on a regular basis again, but the processed meat is slaughtered and packaged in the continental U.S. Jackson does not consider the food healthy for community elders with heightened vulnerability to COVID-19.
"If this virus ever makes it into our community, which I hope it never does, we need to have our people at the best health they can be by supplying them with the best food that we can give them," Jackson said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.