Kenai status changed to 'rural' for subsistance

Posted: Friday, May 05, 2000

Alaska's Kenai Peninsula is once again officially rural.

The Federal Subsistence Board voted Thursday to designate the peninsula a rural area for subsistence purposes, allowing residents of the region's cities to take part in subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands.

The board, which approved the measure by a 4-2 vote, took up the issue at the request of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. Leaders said the urban status of the peninsula's population blocked many members from participating in traditional hunting and fishing.

The board's decision drew immediate response from lawmakers in special session at the Capitol.

Speaker of the House Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican, wasn't sure if the Legislature or the governor would feel the need to take action anytime soon.

As things play out, however, there could be reason to respond.

``My guess is that if they (Kenai residents) string nets across the river, there will be a problem,'' Porter said.

Rep. Hal Smalley, a Kenai Democrat, said the Legislature had a chance to prevent losing control of subsistence fisheries management on federal land by passing a constitutional amendment allowing for a rural preference for subsistence.

``I think that if we resolved that issue last year, we wouldn't have this problem,'' Smalley said. Asked what the impact of the rural designation might mean to commercial and sports fishing interests, he said: ``I don't think it's going to be good.''

During a special session last year, the House passed a measure that might have kept management of fisheries on federal land in Alaska in state hands. It did not attract enough votes in the Senate to make it out of the Legislature.

Empire writer Svend Holst contributed to this report.

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