Knowles calls for subsistence summit

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Gov. Tony Knowles will hold a subsistence leadership summit in Anchorage next month in an effort to build public support for a resolution to the long-running subsistence dilemma.

As part of that effort, Knowles is seeking a 60-day extension of the deadline for the state to appeal the Katie John subsistence lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At an Anchorage news conference Thursday, Knowles said he wanted to regain state management of fish and game from the federal government and to protect subsistence hunting and fishing. He also hoped the summit would help to bridge what he sees as a growing divide between urban and rural Alaska.

''I must do everything within my power to bring together Alaskans who, for 12 years, have been bitterly divided along urban and rural lines, among Natives and non-Natives,'' Knowles said.

The approach drew qualified support from Alaska Native leaders and criticism from Republican legislators.

''Sadly, it's a diversionary technique from task-force Tony. Every time he's faced with a difficult decision he wants to call a summit or create a task force,'' said state Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell.

Knowles has been meeting for the past week with legislative leaders in an effort to convince them to take action to resolve the conflict between state and federal subsistence laws.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, passed by Congress in 1980, gives rural Alaskans first priority to the state's fish and game. That conflicts with the state constitution, which guarantees all Alaskans equal access to the state's resources. The conflict prompted a federal takeover of subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands.

Alaska lawmakers have repeatedly rejected a constitutional amendment that would make a rural preference for subsistence hunting acceptable under state law.

Knowles told reporters Thursday that his talks with legislators in recent days indicate there still are not enough votes to win passage of a measure to put a constitutional amendment before voters.

The subsistence leadership summit is intended to turn up the pressure on lawmakers to take action on the issue, Knowles said.

The summit will take place sometime in mid-August. Those invited will include representatives of Native groups, hunting and fishing organizations, legislators, and business and religious leaders. The panel will be charged with examining the subsistence dilemma and the Katie John case.

The Katie John case, named for an Athabascan elder who was denied a subsistence fish camp on the Copper River, established that the federal government has authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure subsistence rights for rural residents.

The ruling greatly expanded the geographic scope of the federal government's authority in Alaska. Knowles appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a decision that angered Alaska Natives and won support from sport hunting groups and most Republican legislators.

The state lost that appeal and Knowles, once again, must decide whether to continue with the case. The state currently has until Aug. 7 to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A request for an extension of that deadline was filed Wednesday.

Knowles said Thursday that, even if the state wins its case before the Supreme Court, it would not resolve the conflict between state and federal subsistence law. The Katie John case focuses on a narrow interpretation of federal law involving which waters and lands are covered by federal subsistence law, Knowles said.

Katie John's lawyer, Heather Kendall-Miller, said she's pleased that Knowles is taking the issue to community leaders.

''I think the summit is a much better venue to have these kinds of discussions than a special session,'' Kendall-Miller said. ''It is my hope that the leadership would recognize the merits of just sticking with the status quo.''

While Knowles said he wants to see an amendment to the constitution that would bring the state into compliance with federal subsistence law, Kendall-Miller said she would be satisfied if the summit simply recommended dropping its appeal in the Katie John case.

A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Knowles could call the Legislature into special session for a vote on a subsistence amendment or the Legislature could convene of its own accord.

If the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment, it would go before voters in November 2002.

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