Compromise amendment won't make provision for urban subsistence users

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A committee drafting a constitutional amendment to end a decade-long subsistence stalemate has backed away from a compromise to allow some urban residents into the mix.

The committee, appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles following his subsistence summit, could not agree on what language to include to accomplish this, said Attorney General Bruce Botelho, committee chairman.

A draft amendment had sought to allow the Legislature to create special subsistence categories for urban residents and communities with long histories of subsistence activity.

The draft would give rural residents the highest priority to fish and game in times of shortage. But with few exceptions, their hunting and fishing would have to be done locally.

Ultimately, the plan and any state legislation needed to implement it, would have to be passed in the Legislature.

And after a meeting in Anchorage this week, Botelho said the committee could not agree on whether to craft an amendment that sets specific limits on what the Legislature can do.

''Frankly, some of it directly revolves around a lack of confidence in the Legislature, it's willingness to play straight with this issue,'' Botelho said. ''All of us agreed it was an issue that is still on the table.''

The Legislature has repeatedly rejected proposals to align the state constitution with federal subsistence laws granting a rural priority.

The rural priority was intended to protect subsistence for Natives who gave up aboriginal rights under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

But the state constitution guarantees equal access to fish and game for all Alaska residents.

As a result, the federal government took over management of subsistence fishing and hunting on its lands.

The 11-member panel was appointed by Knowles to formulate a constitutional amendment that allowed the state to regain subsistence management of fish and game.

The group also will propose changes in state regulations to implement the amendment and could suggest changes to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which established a rural priority.

The recent plan was seen as a compromise aimed at winning favor from some lawmakers who have repeatedly rejected an amendment only granting a rural priority.

But some lawmakers remain unmoved by the compromise and the Alaska Federation of Natives is now seeking a different route to end the impasse.

Delegates approved a resolution last week instructing the AFN to seek repeal of portions of ANCSA that extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.

''What has happened is the AFN has gone to the very people who created the problem to begin with,'' said Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage. Ward was one of eight state senators who voted against a constitutional amendment in 1999.

Ward said he would support a constitutional amendment creating a local priority, irrespective of whether a person lives in a rural or urban area.

The drafting committee will next begin work on proposed changes to state and federal law, Botelho said. It is expected to meet in Juneau within 10 days, he said.

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