Kenai subsistence decision hurts Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's edition of the Anchorage Daily News:

With all due respect to the Kenaitze people, the federal Subsistence Board's decision to make the entire Kenai Peninsula rural for subsistence purposes is irresponsible.

Talk about dumping gasoline on the fire so the flames will burn higher. When the state and federal governments wrote their subsistence laws, nobody contemplated making Kenai, Soldotna and Homer rural, like Fort Yukon, Galena and Bethel.

Yes, there are subsistence communities on the Kenai, places like Seldovia and Port Graham. But to make all 50,000 residents of the Kenai subsistence users to meet the needs of a tiny fraction of them - that's a recipe for conflict.

Perhaps it's understandable the Kenaitze would pursue their interests with the Subsistence Board. They are asserting what they believe to be their historic rights.

It is not understandable that the board would make a decision bound to spawn confusion and intensify the rivalry among those who fish the Kenai River.

If the board deserves criticism, the legislators and their allies who prevented Alaskans from voting on an amendment that would make the state constitution consistent with federal law on subsistence deserve outright condemnation. Thanks to them, Alaskans missed an opportunity to control their resources. As U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said recently, ``This is what comes from having federal management. This is what comes from failing to pass the subsistence amendment to the constitution.''

A subsistence solution is at hand - the rural preference. It's not perfect, it's not fair to every single individual, it's not neatly tailored to every political, social and geographical circumstance. But it is the best alternative Alaskans have.

Right now, we have political chaos. And the prospect of another spectacular train wreck looms as there are rumblings that Douglas, Eklutna and Adak would like to be rural, just like the Kenai.

The minority in the Legislature and their friends who have stymied a subsistence solution need to know there are real, not theoretical, consequences to their resistance. People are going to get hurt - and become angrier and less responsive to reason.

The resisters also need to be asked: What burden are they prepared to impose on others to win their way?

It's all very well to jump up and down, wave law books and quote Patrick Henry about your rights, but what about your neighbors who would prefer to make accommodations and get on with life? Don't they have rights too?

Choices have consequences, and Alaskans' failure to amend the constitution was a bad choice with bad consequences. On the Kenai, we are beginning to see just how bad those consequences can be.

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