A lawsuit brought by a group of urban Alaska sport hunters challenging the federal subsistence priority for rural Alaskans was shot down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August. The Court’s decision: “Congress intended to protect the subsistence way of life for Native and non-Native rural Alaskans.” The plaintiffs argued that the “equal access” and “common use” phrase in the Alaska Constitution grant hunting and fishing evenly to all Alaskans. It is doubtful if any of the plaintiffs know the singular reason these phrases were used by the writers of Alaska’s Constitution back in 1958: fish traps. Outside interests were pillaging our fisheries prior to statehood.
In 1989, Sam McDowell and an Anchorage attorney sued the state (Sam McDowell versus the State of Alaska) to stop implementing a rural priority. Citing the “equal access” clause in Alaska’s Constitution, McDowell persuaded the State Supreme Court to rule in his favor thus paving the way for the state to categorize all Alaskans subsistence users. The court failed to recognize that the sport hunter and the true subsistence hunter (a minority) gave disparate requirements. To his everlasting credit, Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz filed a dissent of the ruling.
The word equality has long been a shibboleth for those Alaskans who equate sport and trophy hunting with subsistence. This mind-set has developed the travesty of “subsistence” hunters driving to Unit 13 in motor homes trailering six-wheel ATVs to take one bull caribou.
C.S. Lewis, one of the great thinkers of the last century (and the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia”) wrote, “When equality is treated as an ideal ... we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority.”
Millenia earlier King Solomon, who chose wisdom over riches and power and received both, said, “Not all things can be shared equally in order for life to be righteous.”
The only way the state can regain control of its wildlife is to comply with the federally mandated rural priority for subsistence.
George R. Pollard
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