Subsistence summit to begin in Anchorage

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A panel of about 40 people will have two days to reach a conclusion about a subsistence issue that has mired state lawmakers for more than a decade.

The group of business, political, Native and religious leaders could propose that the Legislature pass a state constitutional amendment to comply with federal law granting a rural preference for subsistence hunting and fishing. Or it could reach a conclusion not since proposed.

''These are 40 people who are pretty independent. It's hard to say what they will come up with,'' said former Superior Court Judge Tom Stewart, who will serve as chair of the Subsistence Leadership Summit.

The summit convenes on Wednesday at the Egan Convention and Visitors Center in Anchorage for two days of talks aimed at recommending a long-term solution to the subsistence debate.

Neither side in the debate is expecting a magic bullet plan to surface.

''Both sides of the issue look at the summit skeptically,'' said Larry Merculieff, director of public policy and advocacy for the Rural Community Action Program and an Aleut Native.

''I think their agenda is very ambitious to come up with a vision of something that would be workable in that short of a time,'' Merculieff said.

Gov. Tony Knowles appointed the members of the summit to find a way to preserve the rural subsistence life, regain state management of fish and game and to bridge the divide between urban and rural interests in the debate.

Federal officials now regulate subsistence hunting and fishing on federal land -- which makes up two-thirds of Alaska -- granting a priority to rural residents.

That happened after the state Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that a rural preference granted in the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was unconstitutional.

Several attempts to win passage of a state constitutional amendment through the state legislature to grant a rural preference and comply with ANILCA have failed.

Knowles favors a constitutional amendment and had seen this summit as a way of pressuring lawmakers opposed to such a move to change their stance.

Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, said if that is the conclusion of the two-day summit, than it would have been a waste of time.

''If this group makes a recommendation to the Legislature, specifically a constitutional amendment for a subsistence priority based on one criteria, it's not going to happen,'' Phillips said.

Phillips said he favors changing federal law to allow access to subsistence hunting and fishing for those who need it, including Natives who live in urban areas.

Subsistence is a particularly important issue for Natives -- who constitute about 51 percent of the rural population -- who have argued their traditional ways of life are compromised by losing a subsistence preference.

All or portions of the summit will be aired on six television stations and seven public radio stations from Barrow to Sitka, the governor's office said. Among the television stations is ARCS-TV, which airs in more than 200 villages, the governor's office said. The event will also be broadcast on the Internet.


On the Net.

Link to webcast of the summit:

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