A few stragglers living near the edge of Sterling, but still within the boundaries of the town enjoy the benefits of living in a nonrural area and at the same time, the benefits of a rural designation under federal subsistence regulations.
However, subsistence users from Sterling could become a thing of the past, after a federal Board of Subsistence meeting to reconsider the boundaries of rural designation maps in December.
Currently, most Sterling residents live in what the Office of Subsistence Management, or OSM, defines as a nonrural area. But newly proposed maps could redraw nonrural boundaries to include all of the town’s residents.
The OSM considers Sterling as part of a nonrural area it refers to as the Kenai area. But its current maps define Sterling based on outdated information from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“What they are calling Sterling now is larger than what we had mapped in the past when we said Sterling,” said Larry Buklis, subsistence policy coordinator for OSM. “And so the proposed rule by the board would reconcile that by adjusting our map to include all of the Sterling area. ... We would reconcile the fact that our maps are outdated.”
When compared to the entire Kenai nonrural area, the change reflects a minor adjustment in the area’s boundaries. However, when compared to just Sterling, the adjustment seems considerably larger, Buklis said.
“In terms of Sterling and its part of the picture, it’s probably fairly significant, like another third to a quarter,” he said.
Sterling residents who may lose their rural designation and would like to dispute the proposed change are free to offer the board their comments, but they may need a compelling argument to refute evidence suggesting their rural designation is unwarranted.
“All the information we have indicates it’s a part of the Kenai area, students commute to high school there, the pattern of workers commuting to jobs,” Buklis said. “There isn’t anything on the surface that indicates that part of Sterling not being integrated with the rest of Sterling, Soldotna and Kenai.”
Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, subsistence regulations are required to give rural Alaskans a priority for subsistence hunting and fishing on federal public lands.
The proposed new boundaries and current boundaries can be viewed at the Alaska federal subsistence Web site at alaska.fws.gov/asm/index.cfm. Current rural designation maps can be found in the Web site’s online regulation book, and the proposed rural designation maps can be found by clicking on its maps link.
The federal Subsistence Board is seeking public comments through Friday on the proposed rule that would change the rural or nonrural status of the Sterling area. The board will make a final decision at public meetings in Anchorage on Dec. 12 and 13.
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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