Is Kodiak still rural?

Subsistence Board members tour town as status up for review

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006

KODIAK - Two members of the Federal Subsistence Board toured Kodiak, one of Alaska's larger towns still afforded the "rural" label for purposes of hunting and fishing.

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That label is up for review this summer, potentially affecting residents' rights to subsistence living regardless of race. Other cities in the state's subsistence gray area include Sitka and Ketchikan.

The board members visited last week at the invitation of Sun'aq Tribe of Kodiak.

"Kodiak, they went over and above to be hospitable to us," board chairman Mitch Demientieff said.

Demientieff, of Nenana, is the board's only citizen representative. The board's other five seats are appointed from federal agencies - the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.

The agencies have land management roles in Alaska and are considered to have an interest in guiding subsistence policy.

The federal government regards Kodiak city limits and the surrounding road system as rural for subsistence purposes, but that status is under review by the board.

To be called "rural" under federal regulations, a community must have no more than 7,500 people or have "significant characteristics" of a rural community. Kodiak's 2005 city population was 6,088 and borough population 13,638, according to the state.

Rural status is supposed to be reconsidered every 10 years, but Kodiak's status was first declared in 1990 and this is Kodiak's first review.

Demientieff would not predict what action the board might take, saying the board considers as much information as possible.

"We like to make informed decisions. We don't mess around," he said.

"I can tell you that in keeping Sitka rural, even though they had more than 7,500 people, it was clear and obvious that they still maintained their subsistence lifestyle," he said.

Sitka, with a population of almost 9,000, was reviewed last year and found rural.

Rural status allows Kodiak residents, regardless of race, to qualify for federal permits and take part in hunting and fishing opportunities with harvest limits higher than state rules allow.

They can use gillnets to fill freezers with salmon or fish halibut using longlines, which have multiple hooks.

The opportunities are not limitless, but examples such as one hunter taking six island deer are real.

Hunters can take several deer on federal lands, under rules similar to the State of Alaska's "proxy hunt" rules.

Rural status was granted under rules spawned from the Alaska National Interest Land Claims Act of 1980.

The number 7,500 is not written in law, but comes from congressional staff reports that led up to ANILCA and the law's protection for subsistence rights on federal land in Alaska.

Ketchikan, a city described as nonrural in the reports to congress, had about 7,500 people and was the smallest city referenced as nonrural.

Demientieff, 53, is Athbascan and the only subsistence hunter on the board. He lives in the Interior town of Nenana and serves on the city assembly there.

He hunts moose, ducks, ptarmigan and even porcupine. His wife Kathleen uses porcupine-quill pins for sewing.

"Subsistence is the same. Although the methods of harvest have improved with advancing technology, the lifestyle is the same," he said.

Judy Gottlieb, a board member from the National Park Service, toured Kodiak with Demientieff.

In June, the office of subsistence management will release a report to the board that includes an analysis of Kodiak's rural status. The Kodiak/Aleutians Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meets in September and the board expects to make a final ruling in December.

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