Knowles to call Legislature into special session for subsistence

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles will call the Legislature into special session to deal with the subsistence issue at the end of its business in May, he said Friday.

''I want to put the Legislature and all Alaskans on notice that this issue must and will be taken up,'' Knowles said.

Knowles will ask the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give rural residents first priority to subsistence resources.

The intractable problem has led past governors to call five special sessions. Federal managers now control subsistence on federal lands and waters, which constitute about two-thirds of the state.

The special session would begin May 15 unless the Legislature resolves the issue before that or extends its regular session, Knowles said.

It's unusual for a governor to call a special session before the Legislature has concluded its work. But Knowles said the outcome of an advisory question in the Anchorage municipal election this week gives the issue added momentum.

Despite a low turnout, about 72 percent of Anchorage voters said they want a subsistence amendment on the November ballot.

Knowles said a ''small minority'' of lawmakers in the state Senate who have blocked past attempts to take up such a measure should listen to the voters.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said this week that the Anchorage proposition was too general to influence lawmakers. But Knowles said lawmakers should not ignore the voters, citing past statewide polls that support resolving subsistence.

''If people dismiss the public and say that vote doesn't make any difference to me, let them pay the price at the ballot this year,'' Knowles said.

Subsistence -- or the practice of living off the land -- is Alaska's top civil rights issue and the subject of bitter division between urban and rural residents.

The federal government took over management of subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands and waters in the 1990s after the Legislature failed to pass a constitutional amendment to comply with federal law.

A 1980 federal law requires the state to grant a rural priority for subsistence. But that contrasts with the state constitution, which guarantees all Alaskans equal access to fish and game.

Earlier this year Knowles convened a Tolerance Commission which urged lawmakers to allow voters to change the state's constitution.

Knowles drafted legislation introduced in February to allow some urban residents with traditional ties to subsistence to participate in such a practice.

That measure was scheduled to get its first hearing in the House on Friday.

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