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Fair subsistence review needed: Officials should consider views of all Alaskans

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Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009 4:29 am | Updated: 12:49 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

“The federal subsistence law is broken.” So declared U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a video shown at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Oct. 23.

The secretary announced that “the system, frankly, today is broken” — like that was new news. The law was broken the day it was signed into law almost 30 years ago.

A review by the Department of Interior is planned. The Alaska Outdoor Council would like Alaskans to contact our congressional delegation. Ask them to make sure all stakeholders in this controversy get an invitation to participate in the review — not just federal subsistence and Interior Department representatives, as appears to be the current plan.

Here is some background. U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., introduced legislation in 1978 to protect 140 million acres of Alaska in the form of parks, refuges, wilderness areas and wild and scenic river corridors. His bill passed the U.S. House. Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, stopped its passage in the Senate. Because of the block on the Senate side, President Jimmy Carter invoked the Antiquities Act, declaring 56 million acres of Alaska as national monuments. Carter’s withdrawals prompted renewed congressional action on an Alaska lands bill.

Not long after that, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, masterminded a change in the bill’s proposed hunting and fishing priority, changing it from a Native priority to a “rural” priority. This gained his support for SB 9. Stevens then talked Gravel into ending his filibuster of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which resulted in its passage in 1980.

All sides (Native, non-Native, rural and urban) felt the compromise act was broken from the start.

There is a clear reason why the North American conservation model works. The model puts the resource first and then shares the harvest among all users. It promotes sustained yield and a fair harvest opportunity for all. This has been the basis of the successful model of North American wildlife management for more than a century.

Any act of Congress that professes to be necessary for the sake of resource conservation yet says “come live on wildlife habitat and federal law will give you a priority to take all you can eat” couldn’t be anything other than broken.

The state administration, the Alaska Legislature and AOC, among other organizations, asked for a judicial review of ANILCA’s subsistence priority back in 1994. Under Gov. Tony Knowles, the suit was dropped with prejudice, meaning the state could never again ask for a judicial review of who has the authority to manage subsistence harvests on federal lands in Alaska.

Misperceptions and misinterpretations of ANILCA have been fostered by Alaska’s statewide media outlets for decades. The Anchorage Daily News, on Nov. 1, proclaimed in an editorial that the federal law is the model the state should follow because “... it would give Alaska Natives, and (anyone else who chooses to move onto Alaska’s wildlife habitat) first crack at fish and game, particularly in times of scarcity.”

That statement is far from the truth. First, Alaska Natives living in designated non-subsistence (urban) areas are not afforded a subsistence priority under the federal law. Second, under ANILCA, scarcity is not a prerequisite for the elimination of non-rural hunters. The feds can exclude all non-rural hunters from hunting on federal land any time they deem fit.

If nothing else, a transparent review of the federal law might shed light on a number of these myths regarding ANILCA. It’s doubtful that Title VIII of ANILCA could withstand a close judicial review without being found in violation of the U.S. Constitution and in violation of Alaska’s Statehood Act.

At the very least, Secretary Salazar’s call for review confirms that all parties interested in management and allocation of Alaska’s fish and wildlife agree that the current federal subsistence program is broken. An open, honest review is greatly needed.

The first step: We’ll see who gets an invitation to participate.

Rod Arno of Palmer is executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Council.


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