Anchorage subsistence meeting canceled

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A meeting aimed at looking for solutions to the state's subsistence conflict was canceled after the Alaska Federation of Natives decided not to attend.

Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, said the meeting was called with only about a week's notice, which was not enough lead time for AFN.

Mike Irwin of AFN said the organization had ''a host of difficulties with the meeting.''

Among those AFN President Julie Kitka outlined in a four-page letter to Torgerson was that the starting point for the meeting appeared to be a local priority rather than a rural priority as called for in the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

''We cannot view this as a legitimate starting point because it would require changes to ANILCA, and thus represents a tremendous step backward from our current subsistence protections,'' Kitka said.

Lawmakers have been trying to find a solution to the subsistence issue for more than a decade.

Alaska's constitution conflicts with the federal law requiring a priority for rural subsistence users in Alaska. That conflict led to a federal takeover of fish and game management on federal land in Alaska.

Various attempts to amend the state constitution to comply with the federal law have failed because putting an amendment before voters requires a two-thirds vote of the urban-dominated Legislature.

Not enough lawmakers will vote for a rural priority to put the measure on the ballot. Opponents say a rural priority would discriminate against urban Alaskans.

Torgerson, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, said he's not discouraged at having to cancel Thursday's meeting, which he had asked representatives of AFN, the Alaska Outdoor Council and the United Fishermen of Alaska to attend.

''I think we'll continue our discussions,'' he said. ''They invited us out to King Salmon to meet with them and their leadership later on this summer.''

Torgerson said a local preference is being discussed because not enough senators will vote for a rural preference.

AFN could not enter talks on a local priority without discussions beyond just its board members, Irwin said.

A group of about 70 Native leaders plans to meet at King Salmon in August, so AFN asked Torgerson to push back talks until then, Irwin said. The group invited Torgerson and Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, to the August meeting.

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