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copyright Carol Ann WoodySouthwest Alaska may seem a remote wilderness to first-time visitors, but just as early anglers discovered a half-century ago, it is inhabited wilderness.

Native villages, some occupied for hundreds of years, are scattered across the region. Subsistence hunting and fishing is still of great importance to all residents, not only as a major source of food, but for cultural and social sustenance. Salmon fishing is still conducted much as it was a hundred years ago, with fish netted, split, and dried for later use.

copyright Carol Ann WoodyOften entire families travel to summer fish camps, where ownership is based on which family has fished there the longest. Sharing the subsistence harvest is common. Villagers who are old, frail, or simply unable to participate in the annual harvest, are often given fish by fellow subsistence fishermen, a tradition that won the admiration of Russian explorers centuries ago.

Subsistence fishing and hunting is given legal priority over both commercial and sport use throughout Alaska. This means that during times of scarcity, managers must first provide for subsistence use before allocating fish and game to commercial and sport uses.

copyright Clark James Mishler

On an annual basis, subsistence use of fish and game, accounts for about one percent of the region’s total harvest, a proportion so small that it’s usually easily accommodated. Families in native villages throughout Southwest Alaska consume hundreds of pounds of salmon each year.

In wilderness is the preservation of subsistence. The indescriminate sale of the very Native lands that support subsistence will only lead to the end of wilderness, to the end of the Native cultures born of that wilderness, and to the end of a sanctuary that nourishes all of us. This must not happen.