Murkowski sets Anchorage hearing on Kenai subsistence decision

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Sen. Frank Murkowski has scheduled an oversight hearing on the Federal Subsistence Board's decision this spring to consider everyone on the Kenai Peninsula to be a rural resident.

That would make them potentially eligible for a subsistence hunting and fishing preference.

The Alaska Republican said at a Washington news conference Thursday he wants to know why the entire peninsula should be considered rural.

The hearing will be held at Anchorage early in August. Public testimony will not be taken. Murkowski said he wants to talk with policy-makers first.

Under provisions of the federal subsistence law, rural residents must be given preference to hunt and fish on federal lands and waters. A federal appeals court has said that such federal management can pre-empt state managers' decisions on state lands and waters as well. But the law doesn't define rural, so agencies and courts have been busy with efforts to do so since the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act passed in 1980.

The federal board has ''come down with some unusual interpretations of 'rural,''' Murkowski said.

Declaring that all Kenai Peninsula residents are rural could make them eligible for whatever seasons, bag limits and harvest techniques are offered under federal subsistence rules.

Since the federal board's mandate is to provide for rural users first, the decision could lead to an increased salmon take by the peninsula's 50,000 residents. And that could ''terminate'' fishing by commercial permit holders and people from other areas of the state,'' Murkowski said.

Mitch Demientieff, a former president of Tanana Chiefs Conference who serves as the federal board's chairman, said the panel based its decision largely on a study conducted by the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research.

ISER conducted the study for the Kenaitze tribe, Demientieff said.

The tribe has been pushing for a rural designation for the entire peninsula so its members can net salmon for personal use. Most Kenaitze members live near the city of Kenai.

''It was clear to me that Kenai (Peninsula) was very much rural,'' Demientieff told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miners.

There are many small communities spread across the peninsula, he said. Also, the peninsula is considered rural by ''every federal program that is out there,'' Demientieff said.

The board's decision reversed its 1990 ruling that the most populous areas of the peninsula were not rural, Murkowski said. Those areas include Kenai, Soldotna and Homer.

''We're going to ask them why,'' Murkowski said.

Marilyn Heiman, a special assistant to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in Anchorage, said her agency would welcome the oversight hearing.

''Anything the senator can do to bring attention to this issue and encourage the state to take back management of subsistence on federal lands would be welcomed by the department,'' Heiman said.

''The board doesn't make any allocations until fall, so this summer will not be affected,'' she said. ''But they could change, and it's the perception of the change that is concerning everyone.

''This is an important issue, it's very controversial and it needs to be aired.''

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