Subsistence committee submits its proposal

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A proposed constitutional amendment on subsistence was submitted Monday to Gov. Tony Knowles after three months of tweaking in an attempt to dissolve the knotty issue that's confounded politicians for more than a decade.

''There are some things that provide some promise or hope this time,'' said Attorney General Bruce Botelho, chairman of the amendment-drafting committee appointed by Knowles last fall.

The committee submitted its proposed amendment, regulatory changes, and a report after a weekend meeting in Juneau to iron out final details.

Knowles wants an amendment put before voters in 2002 that would change the state constitution to comply with federal law. But constitutional amendments need a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature, and so for no proposal has surmounted that hurdle.

The proposed amendment this time comes close to giving a priority to rural residents of the local area where the fish and game are located, Botelho noted, muting criticism that all rural residents would be in line ahead of urban Alaskans even if they lived far from the fish and game in question.

The measure says the Legislature may grant a secondary priority for subsistence to other residents with connections to subsistence, as long as that doesn't diminish the subsistence priority of rural residents.

''We're still trying to reach both the surrounded community, for example, Eklutna, and urban residents who have connections to rural subsistence,'' Botelho said.

''As a constitutional concept, that's something new to the table,'' he said.

The panel deadlocked on whether to recommend changes to the federal law that mandates a subsistence priority for rural Alaskans, Botelho said.

Federal agencies took over management of game on federal lands after a 1989 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court that the state constitution prohibits giving rural residents a priority for taking fish and game in the state. That conflicts with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the 1980 federal law that mandates a rural priority. Federal management was later expanded to include fish.

Legislators have wrangled over the issue ever since, including efforts at five special sessions called by three different governors.


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