Alaskans get new chance to resolve subsistence debate

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2001

Alaska has been granted another chance to resolve its subsistence dilemma, and that means settling the conflict between state and federal law.

Although the state's constitution provides equal access to the state's fish and game resources, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act provides for a rural subsistence priority. Federal management of fish and game on federal lands exists because Alaskans have not bridged this difference.

All Alaskans should hope the Subsistence Leadership Summit scheduled for Aug. 15-16 in Anchorage will result in a decisive solution to this divisive debate.

The panel of more than three dozen Alaska leaders who will participate in the summit represents a virtual who's who in the state, including some well-known Kenai Peninsula names. It will be chaired by respected retired Superior Court Judge Tom Stewart of Juneau.

The makeup of the group already has been criticized as being in favor of those supporting a rural priority for subsistence, but that should be expected. A multitude of polls have shown a majority of Alaskans favor a rural priority for subsistence in times of shortage. Poll after poll also shows a majority of Alaskans support a constitutional amendment to bring this debate to an end, preserving state sovereignty and the lifestyle of rural Alaska in the process.

It is regrettable that the Legislature has not seen fit to send such a constitutional amendment to Alaskans for a vote. Although the constitution should be changed sparingly, a change to bring an end to this bitter debate is justified.

Perhaps, summit leaders will speak with a voice legislators will heed.

It also is possible the subsistence summit will yield yet a better resolution than a constitutional amendment. We would not want to close the door on any possibility.

But resolve this, Alaskans must. The debate has gone on far too long and far too bitterly. Legislators have not shown the will to settle the issue; let's hope summit participants can do better.

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