Minority report filed in Subsistence summit

Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska can solve its subsistence dilemma without creating a privileged class and trampling on the civil rights of urban residents, said a group of delegates to Gov. Tony Knowles panel studying the issue.

Two of the 42 people appointed to Knowles' Subsistence Leadership Summit released their minority report on Tuesday calling on the state to create a needs-based system governing subsistence access to fish and game.

It differs greatly from the work of the panel, which concluded last week that Alaska should change its constitution to comply with federal laws that already give rural Natives and non-natives first right to fish and game.

''We're convinced that the federal law is so flawed in terms of both conservation and civil rights that it needs to be changed,'' said Dick Bishop, an outdoorsman from Fairbanks.

Bishop and Ron Somerville, of the Territorial Sportsmen Board, submitted their dissenting recommendations to the governor's office on Tuesday.

Both voted against the recommendations made last Thursday by a two-day Subsistence Leadership Summit which met in Anchorage to find common ground on solving the debate.

Bishop and Somerville recommend rural residents be granted a presumptive right to practice subsistence hunting and fishing and that urban residents be allowed to pursue the practice if they can prove they are dependent on it.

Bishop said the recommendations would meet requirements under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and would not violate the state constitutional rights of all Alaskans to pursue subsistence hunting and fishing.

Bishop and Somerville also suggests changing ANILCA to ensure state management of subsistence and allow equal access to hunting and fishing.

''As many people stated, that is simply not going to happen,'' said Bob King, Knowles press secretary.

King said the minority report recommending a needs-based approach ''misses the mark'' on the reasons for subsistence, which often is more tied in Native traditions rather than economics. ''Subsistence is not welfare,'' King said.

Alaska is the only state in the union where federal provisions exist to allow people to live off the land -- a nod to centuries of Native culture and traditions that have since become adopted by non-Natives as well.

A state Supreme Court ruling in 1989 barring a rural preference prompted a federal takeover of subsistence oversight on federal land and water, an area constituting roughly two-thirds of the state.

Knowles, a Democrat, wants to return all subsistence oversight in Alaska to the state by granting a rural preference but has been unsuccessful in convincing the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

His Subsistence Leadership Summit -- represented heavily by Native organizations and those who want a rural priority -- concluded that an amendment should be before voters by 2002. It also agreed that more talk is needed to heal the racial, social and political tension created by the impasse.

While rural residents are only about 20 percent of the state's population, 51 percent of those residents are Natives.

The growing divide between states-rights forces who want equal access to fish and game and those who support a rural priority sparked Knowles' summit to seek a solution.

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