Kenai rural decision could come Thursday

Subsistence board to meet in Anchorage

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

The Federal Subsistence Board meets Thursday in Anchorage to reconsider a finding that the entire Kenai Peninsula is rural and eligible for federal subsistence on federal lands.

When it meets, a committee of representatives from agencies on the board will recommend rescinding the rural determination, said Peggy Fox, committee chair and deputy assistant regional director for subsistence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and National Park Service and Mitch Demientieff, subsistence board chair, have representatives on the staff committee, which voted 4-2 to recommend rescinding the rural determination, she said.

The dissenting votes came from the BIA representative and Demientieff's representative, who also comes from the BIA. Both clearly favored upholding the Kenai Peninsula rural determination, Fox said.

The debate dates back to 1990, when the board found that Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Hope, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham were the only peninsula communities that were rural and eligible for the subsistence preference.

However, in May 2000, in response to a petition from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the board voted 4-2 to find that even the peninsula's major population centers are rural, making all of its roughly 50,000 residents eligible for the subsistence preference.

It agreed to reconsider after requests from Safari Club International, Safari Club's Alaska and Kenai Peninsula chapters, the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Council and the state's Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Commit-tee.

"The very bottom line is, they added 42,000 people to the approximately 8,000 previously designated rural and eligible for the subsistence priority," said Bill Stockwell, chair of the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee. "There is insufficient wildlife on federal land and insufficient fish in federal waters to support the subsistence needs of 50,000 people."

There already have been requests to open subsistence harvest of salmon, moose and caribou to rural peninsula residents, Stockwell said.

"If 50,000 people choose to do subsistence moose, there could be no hunting for moose on federal lands except for subsistence," he said.

The board plans to reconsider during a meeting Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage. First, it will hear opening remarks and a summary of written testimony from the public, said Fish and wildlife spokesperson Richard Davis.

Ralph Lohse, chair of the Southcentral Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council will explain the council's recommendation to keep the peninsula's rural determination, and Fox will explain the staff committee recommendation to rescind it. Then, the board will hear public testimony.

Davis said the board hopes to decide the issue and adjourn by 5, but the meeting could run longer.

In its analysis, the board's staff put three options on the table. The board could:

n Affirm the May 2000 decision that the entire peninsula is rural.

n Rescind the May 2000 decision.

n Put off deciding until it approves new methods for making rural-nonrural determinations. The board is seeking a contractor now to revamp its methods for a statewide review following the 2000 federal census.

Stockwell said the Fish and Game advisory committee favors the third option. The board made its May 2000 decision with incomplete and outdated information, he said.

"They should have waited until they had the 2000 census and the new method they're putting in place," he said.

Fox said the board also may consider expanding the Southcentral advisory council or creating a Kenai Peninsula advisory council to provide adequate representation if the peninsula rural determination stands.

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, it considers criteria such as how many Happy Valley residents commute to jobs or make daily shopping trips to Homer.

How communities are lumped makes a big difference. Federal rules say 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."

Then, it must consider which communities are rural, looking particularly those in the 2,500 to 7,000 population range. The current criteria include development and diversity of the economy, transportation and educational institutions.

Fox said the staff committee used the 1990 methods with updated information and reaffirmed the 1990 findings.

"The staff committee felt the updated information made it even more compelling," she said. "It's the fact that these communities have grown and that their integration seems more clear to the majority of the staff committee. They'd look at the Kenai area (from Nikiski to Soldotna, Clam Gulch and Sterling), see a population of 30,000 and question the rural classification."

Many people live in one central peninsula community and work in another, she said.

"There's been such continuing growth and expansion of population and business that it makes an even more compelling case than it was in 1990," she said.

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