My Turn: Scare tactics obscure issues of subsistence

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Alaska Outdoor Council's radio announcements and leaflets contain significant errors and misinformation about the impact of a rural subsistence priority on urban hunters. In fact, both rural and urban hunters and fishermen will be far better off with a state-managed rural subsistence priority than under the current dual management program. The AOC assertion that a rural subsistence priority will eliminate hunting and fishing for urban residents is false.

On the contrary, during the 1980s, when the state was in compliance with ANILCA and we managed for a rural subsistence priority most of the Kenai Peninsula, most of the Mat-Su valley, and areas around Juneau, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Valdez were all, by definition, non-rural. There was no subsistence priority in these areas. The vast majority of the game and fish harvested by urban hunters and fishermen came from these non-rural areas and the same is true today. The Kenai River is a great example. The Kenai was, and still is, a non-rural or non-subsistence area where personal use and sport fisheries provide urban Alaskans the opportunity to harvest fish close to home.

Rural residents generally get their fish and wildlife from rural areas near their homes. And rural residents generally fish and hunt much closer to home than do urban Alaskans. Even if they wanted to, most rural Alaskans don't have the means to travel long distances to hunt and fish.

But what about urban residents who want to travel to remote rural areas to fish and hunt? During the 1980s participation in subsistence hunts was limited to rural residents, and as a result, subsistence-only "Tier II" hunts were rare. Some subsistence hunts had a different season, bag limit, or antler restriction to accommodate local traditions and dependence on the resource and avoid competition in the field between users. But urban residents had as much opportunity to hunt in rural areas. ADF&G statistics show that during the time the state had a rural priority, opportunity for urban hunters increased for most species.

A good example of how the rural-priority worked for both rural and urban users is the case of Nelchina caribou, where 480 caribou were allocated for rural subsistence uses. This was 30 percent of the harvestable surplus and the remaining 70 percent was available to non-local hunters, through a random drawing system. There was no Tier II permit system and everyone had a chance to get a hunt permit.

The popular Chitina dip net fishery is another example of how all Alaskans can be accommodated under a rural priority. The Copper River sockeye and king runs are plentiful and rural subsistence use is a small part of the overall harvest. Therefore, there is plenty of opportunity for harvest by both urban and rural users. This reality is far from the scare-tactic scenario represented in the AOC's misleading messages.

The rural priority for subsistence is the best way to meet the subsistence needs of those most dependent on wild foods. Basing subsistence eligibility on rural residence is a rational approach that does not require a new large bureaucracy and an invasive permit system. It is also the best way to assure maximum opportunity for urban Alaskans who derive their own traditional, cultural, nutritional and economic benefits from the hunting and fishing experience.

Frank Rue is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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