Not surprisingly, poor rural Americans often objected to conservation laws for cutting off access to natural resources that had long been a central (and celebrated) component of frontier life. According to these critics, conservation laws seemed designed to take from poor rural folks in order to benefit wealthy urban sightseers and sport hunters.” There are poor people in Alaska today who view conservation in almost the same way. It is going to make it difficult to find an easy way into the future. What is playing out in Alaska looks a lot like what played out long ago in the rest of America.
The state boards of fish and game wrestled with it, and then they did what most knowledgeable observers expected them to do: Nothing. Bethel remains a subsistence community, as does the busy port of Kodiak, which was also suggested for removal. How eventually the harvests of fish and game will work themselves out in both areas remains to be seen. Kodiak is an island surrounded by rich marine life. It should, theoretically, be able to support subsistence activities for a long time yet. Bethel is a decidedly different case.
Bethel is a place where a population that was declining at the end of the 1990s is again growing. It is up 16.5 percent since the year 2000. The community is twice the size it was in the 1970s. There are now more people living in Bethel proper than were living in the entire Bethel Census Area — a 46,000 square-mile-swath of Western Alaska — in 1960. Demographics alone would indicate the issue of subsistence in Bethel is not going away any time soon, and it presents difficult questions with no easy answers.