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Committee meets for final time to draft subsistence amendment

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A panel appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles completed its work Tuesday on a series of proposals aimed at breaking a decade-long stalemate over subsistence.

Part of the package includes a state constitutional amendment to comply with federal law granting rural residents a priority for subsistence hunting and fishing in times of shortage.

That would be a necessary step in allowing Alaska to regain control over subsistence management on federal lands.

The panel also recommended extending subsistence rights to some urban residents and communities and guaranteeing Alaska Natives a place in the state's subsistence management system.

That was a key element in a compromise that seeks to bridge a gap between Alaska Natives and urban hunters and fishermen.

Knowles said Tuesday he was confident this proposal would be greeted more favorably by the Legislature than past plans.

''I think it's very strong but also reaches out with that second tier approach. We should be able to get the necessary support just to allow Alaskans to vote on it,'' Knowles said.

Knowles wants an amendment put before voters in 2002 that would change the state constitution to comply with federal law.

Federal managers began managing subsistence on federal lands and waters -- which make up about two-thirds of the state -- after the Legislature failed to pass just such an amendment.

The federal subsistence law is in conflict with the state constitution which guarantees equal access to fish and game for all Alaskans.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho, who chaired the committee, said the proposed amendment includes concessions made by factions on both sides of the debate.

The plan recommends Alaska Natives be given a voice in subsistence management, but leaves any final decisions to state officials.

''It would surprise me if any group would embrace what we have done with great enthusiasm,'' Botelho said.

Aside from drafting the amendment, the panel left specific changes in state law to the Legislature. It only adopted general guidelines for action.

The panel also did not recommend any changes in the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the federal law that provides for a rural priority, despite much debate.

''Too many moving parts,'' Botelho said.

Native groups have been resistant to any changes in ANILCA and have threatened to pull their support for any plan that reduces subsistence rights they have under federal management.

But Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said some changes in ANILCA will be essential to reaching a compromise before the Legislature.

''If you are going to get a solution, it is going to take movement by everybody,'' Leman said.

Knowles said he plans to meet with legislative leaders after the panel's work is finalized. He had no immediate plans to call the Legislature into special session before January. Knowles said the Legislature could take up the proposal this session or in a later special session.

There have been five special sessions on subsistence under three different governors. All have failed to break the stalemate.



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