Kenai rural analysis names 3 options

Posted: Friday, May 25, 2001

The Federal Subsistence Board has postponed considering proposals for subsistence moose hunts and salmon fisheries open to all rural Kenai Peninsula residents until it reconsiders whether the entire peninsula is rural.

But the board's staff will not make a recommendation in its analysis of requests to reconsider the Kenai rural determination. The analysis, which the board reviewed during a work session Tuesday, is scheduled for public release June 1.

Bill Knauer, policy and regulations specialist for the Office of Subsistence Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said the analysis simply presents three options, which the board is tentatively scheduled to consider on June 28. Those are:

n To confirm the board's May 2000 decision to classify the Kenai-Soldotna, Seward-Moose Pass and Homer areas as rural, like the rest of the Kenai Peninsula.

n To rescind the May 2000 decision and classify the peninsula's three main population centers as nonrural, making their residents ineligible for federal subsistence.

n To put off a decision until an independent contractor suggests new criteria for deciding which communities are rural. Knauer said the board began advertising for a contractor Monday and hopes to pick one by June.

"It's being put out for contract for credibility and the expertise to develop a system that is a sound, defensible system to determine which communities are rural and nonrural," he said. "We're seeking someone with good expertise and knowledge of rural sociology, economics and demographics."

The contract could go to a university, he said. He did not know a completion date for the work.

The criteria for determining which communities are rural have been at the heart of the controversy over the Kenai Peninsula rural determination. Only communities the board recognizes as rural are eligible for federal subsistence, and, until last year, the only peninsula communities recognized as rural were Cooper Landing, Ninilchik, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.

Last May, the board voted 4-2 that the entire Kenai Peninsula should be classified as rural and that all of its residents should be eligible for subsistence. However, many Alaskans questioned whether cities such as Kenai and Soldotna, with supermarkets, department stores and a strong cash economy, could be considered rural.

After several requests, the board agreed to reconsider. It postponed considering several Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet subsistence proposals, including:

n One from the Ninilchik Traditional Council, Steve Vanek and Fred H. Bahr to find that all Kenai Peninsula residents traditionally have used all Cook Inlet-area fish and shellfish. They propose a subsistence fishery for all peninsula residents -- with no closed season or limits -- for all fish and shellfish.

n A proposal to find that rural residents of the western Kenai Peninsula customarily and traditionally have hunted moose and caribou throughout the peninsula, in game management units 16A and 16B in northwest Cook Inlet and in units 9A and 9B near Kamishak Bay. Fish and Wildlife has recommended including all rural Kenai Peninsula residents in the finding.

More recently, the board has received new proposals to create subsistence fisheries for Cook Inlet halibut and salmon and to open a rod-and-reel subsistence fishery on the Kenai River.

Before determining whether communities are rural, the board first lumps those with similar characteristics.

In deciding whether Happy Valley is separate or a bedroom community of Homer, for example, the board considers criteria such as how many Happy Valley residents commute to jobs or make daily shopping trips to Homer, Knauer said.

How communities are lumped makes a big difference. Federal rules say that communities with less than 2,500 people may be presumed rural, those with more than 7,000 people may be presumed nonrural, and those with between 2,500 and 7,000 people could be either and must be examined more closely.

Using the 1990 census figures, "Kenai, Soldotna and surrounding communities total much more than 7,000 people," Dan LaPlant, wildlife liaison for the Office of Subsistence Management, said recently. "If you aggregate them, you assume they are not rural. If you take individual communities, only Kenai has more than 7,000 people. Kenai is over by just a few. The others are under 7,000."

Once the board decides how communities should be lumped, it must consider whether they are rural and nonrural, particularly those in the 2,500 to 7,000 population range.

Knauer said state subsistence managers have classified all road-connected communities nonrural, but there is a big difference between Anchorage and Chickaloon, which also lies on the road system. The current federal criteria include development and diversity of the economy, transportation and educational institutions, but they lack specifics.

"It says 'transportation,' but it doesn't say, 'must be road connected or have so many miles of roads,'" Knauer said. "It doesn't say educational institutions must include an institution of higher learning."

If the board waits until after it adopts new criteria to reconsider the Kenai rural determination, he said, it will use 2000 census figures.

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