Alaska editorial: Subsistence priority shouldn't be based on Alaska ZIP codes

Posted: Monday, May 07, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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One of the great weaknesses of the subsistence rules laid out in Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act is the idea of a "rural" subsistence priority.

The act gives no guidance on how to define "rural."

The intent seems clear enough and, presumably, one would think an Alaskan knows "rural" when he sees it. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even so-called rural residents argue among themselves over who really should be eligible to harvest fish and game under the more lenient subsistence harvest bag limits, methods and means.

So-called ZIP code management schemes lead to serious urban-rural divisions. And when the state of Alaska refused to change its constitution to fully adopt this ridiculous set of rules, the federal government stepped in to not only take over subsistence management on federal lands but to create a bureaucracy that far exceeds efforts the state was ever able to afford on behalf of subsistence users. It's an irony because the federal government for years failed to fill the fiscal note ANILCA promised to help the state administer subsistence programs, creating shortfalls that no doubt added to urban-rural strife and mistrust of state fish and game management.

This background is at least part of why residents are so upset at the Federal Subsistence Board's decisions to grant rural fishing priorities for the areas of Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Hope and Happy Valley.

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Kenai, is correct in his resolution calling for the board to rescind these decisions. His resolution states that none of these priorities were decided upon using the board's own regulatory criteria for customary and traditional uses or other criteria the board lists for awarding a subsistence priority.

It's a reflection of the kind of ZIP code division of Alaska that federal regulators have adopted for years. We don't need this kind of urban-rural division in our state.

The resolution passed the House last month and has been referred to the Senate. It should pass there as well. Any time we can, Alaskans should yell loud and clear at federal regulators that fish and game priorities based on ZIP code have no place in Alaska.

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