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Legislative Council files motion to appeal Katie John case

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Legislative Council asked the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Katie John subsistence case on Thursday.

The council, which acts on behalf of the Alaska Legislature, filed its request on the same day the deadline to appeal the case was to expire.

Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, who chairs the committee, said it would allow the Legislature to take over the lawsuit.

Gov. Tony Knowles decided in August not to appeal the case, citing a need to heal the urban and rural divide in the state. But Green said larger issues need to be resolved.

''If we allow this decision to stand, the federal government will have a good argument for controlling any activity that occurs along a navigable waterway in Alaska,'' Green said.

The Katie John case, named for an Athabascan elder who successfully sued after being denied a fish camp on the Copper River, greatly expanded federal control over subsistence issues.

Prior to the case the federal government managed subsistence uses on its own land, which constituted two-thirds of the state.

The Ninth Circuit ruling included navigable waters as well. That's because the state does not comply with a 1980 federal law requiring rural Alaskans be given a priority to the state's fish and game. The Alaska Constitution guarantees all Alaskans equal access to the state's fish, wildlife and water.

It has touched off a battle between states-rights advocates and subsistence users over whether to change the Alaska Constitution or to fight the federal government.

''We're going to go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary since we were riding the governors tails and he dropped it. We've got to pick the ball up and go,'' Green said.

Knowles announced his decision to drop the case shortly after calling a two-day summit of Alaska leaders to find a long-term solution to the subsistence dilemma.

The Democrat governor has said he's prepared to call the GOP-controlled Legislature into special session to put a constitutional amendment granting a rural subsistence priority before voters.

A spokesman for Knowles called Thursday's action ''unfortunate.''

''The governor is confident of his action in dropping the Katie John case is the responsible thing to do for the state,'' said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.

''I think the appropriate action by the Legislature is not to pursue lawsuits where they have questionable -- if any -- standing, but to take action to pass a constitutional amendment,'' King said.

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