Subsistence plan could include some urban residents

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new draft plan for a state constitutional amendment would allow the Legislature to create special subsistence categories for city dwellers with long histories of subsistence.

The plan also calls for categories for traditional hunting and fishing communities swallowed up by modern urbanization.

The highest priority would still be for rural residents, as spelled out by federal law. But their hunting and fishing would have to be done close to home, making their right something of a ''local'' priority.

The proposal is being drawn up by a task force appointed after a ''subsistence leadership summit'' called by Gov. Tony Knowles in August. The group was to hold its third meeting Saturday in Anchorage.

''The committee has tried not to make any strategy calls here,'' said Attorney General Bruce Botelho, who is chairing the group. ''Our task has been to say, on substance, what makes the most sense.''

The unfinished plan is likely to get its first public airing later this week at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.

The measure will face an uncertain reception in the Legislature, where a majority has opposed past proposals to amend the constitution for subsistence.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said the inclusion of urban harvesters could draw the votes necessary to pass the package.

''If they really work on some of these things that have been sticking points, it's cause for optimism,'' Leman said Friday.

But several opponents said no amount of stirring the pot can make a rural priority palatable.

''It will create two classes of citizens, one rural and one urban,'' said Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell. ''They're amending the constitution to destroy the equal protection clause.''

''Until they satisfy the equal protection clause, there will be 10 votes (in the Senate) that will be no,'' said Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River.

Knowles said Friday a subsistence priority doesn't create a special class in rural Alaska. ''If you wanted to have those special provisions, you could move there,'' he said.

Knowles said he still hopes to convince legislators to allow a statewide vote on an amendment. He predicted a groundswell of support for rural subsistence, which he called ''the No. 1 issue for how we shape our society for the next century.'' Creative thinking by his task force could help that cause, he said.

The two-tier subsistence priority is drawing mixed reviews from Dick Bishop, who follows subsistence for the Alaska Outdoor Council, a sportsmen's group. He said it's a good step to recognize the subsistence needs of some urban residents. But he said the proposal still discriminates because urban residents wouldn't qualify as easily as rural residents.

Rural residents should have to qualify individually as well, he said.

''It's OK to have distinctions for legitimate subsistence users, but everyone should be on equal footing,'' Bishop said.

On the other side, some Natives may oppose the idea, in part for leaving so much discretion to the Legislature in fashioning the secondary tiers of subsistence users.

''It's worth exploring, but I have my doubts,'' said Roy Huhndorf, co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives and a member of the Knowles task force. ''It could be the formula for healing the rift in the state. But I'm sure that many will view this as too much compromise to an already compromised law.''

Botelho said the Knowles task force supports the rural priority but wants to keep it focused locally.

''There's a constant concern about whether the Barrow person has the right to hunt and fish at Tenakee Springs,'' said Botelho. ''Our view is no, unless someone can demonstrate that it was traditional for Barrow to hunt in Southeast Alaska.''

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