Subsistence board should delay decision until review completed

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001


That's our advice to the Federal Subsistence Board meeting in Anchorage today to reconsider a ruling that the entire Kenai Peninsula is rural and all residents are eligible for subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands.

There are at least three options before the board:

Affirm its May 2000 decision that the entire peninsula is rural;

Rescind the May 2000 decision;

Delay deciding until it approves new methods for making rural-nonrural determinations.

The last option is the preferred one. The board is required to reconsider its rural determinations on a 10-year cycle, following the federal census. Plus, the board currently is seeking a contractor to revise its methods for making rural determinations. Armed with census data, it makes sense for the board to wait on deciding the peninsula's status until new methods for determining what's rural are approved.

The new methods should make it easier to determine if the entire peninsula, parts of it or none of it should be considered rural.

Even defining "rural" opens Pandora's Box. Certainly, the Kenai Peninsula is not as urban as Anchorage. On the other hand, compared to roadless communities of the state, the peninsula with its large retail outlets, grocery stores, relatively cheap power sources and other amenities is downright citified.

Do things like seasonal employment, a high unemployment rate, lack of water and sewer systems throughout parts of the peninsula, and the fact that many federal agencies consider it rural for a variety of programs mean the entire peninsula should be considered rural for subsistence purposes?

If the peninsula is nonrural, why do so many businesses market it as "wilderness"?

On the other hand, how many other rural communities have such a busy airport, diversified economy, quality medical services, a college and solid infrastructure?

Is the peninsula rural because many families live miles from a paved highway with children having an hour's bus ride to school and Mom and Dad having to make a 70-mile round-trip commute to work each day?

Is the peninsula nonrural because of its cash-based economy?

Does population alone determine whether a community is urban or rural?

Most people would agree that there is not enough fish and wildlife to support the subsistence needs -- or is it wants? -- of the peninsula's roughly 50,000 people.

But that concession leads to other questions: Is subsistence an individual right or a cultural and community right? Could the answer to that question make a difference in the outcome of this divisive subsistence debate?

It's regrettable that the subsistence issue has pitted neighbor against neighbor, with each side questioning the motives and character of the other.

The debate, however, shows just how unique the peninsula is. The peninsula offers the best of Alaska -- a little bit city, a little bit country, and lots of great hunting and fishing -- all within driving distance from the state's major population center.

Its uniqueness makes it difficult to define the peninsula as either urban or rural. It's both. That's a big part of the charm and appeal of living here.

And that's exactly why the federal subsistence board should delay its decision until information from the 2000 census is reviewed and new methods for making rural-nonrural determinations are approved.

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