Hope for Knowles' summit?

Leaders discuss the outlook for finding a solution at this week's subsistence meetings

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Gov. Tony Knowles probably could use a little help from David Copperfield.

Some might see calling a "subsistence leadership summit," set for Wednesday and Thursday in Anchorage, as trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

"I really don't have a magic solution," said Ron Somerville of Juneau, who will represent the Territorial Sportsmen at the summit. Similarly, U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, in his annual address to the Alaska Legislature, said when asked for advice about subsistence: "I'm not up here as a magician."

But no one wants to rule out a resolution, either.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula said: "I think, on this issue, people try not to lose hope."

Forty-two Alaska leaders will gather at the Egan Convention Center to ponder a legal, social and political issue that has been intractable for the past 12 years: How can the state manage its own fish and game resources while protecting the subsistence way of life for Natives, and do it in a way that unites Alaskans?

On the Juneau cable television system, the main sessions of the daytime summit will be broadcast on Channel 4, Alaska Two, and Channel 18, the University of Alaska Learning Channel, said Knowles press secretary Bob King. In rural Alaska, the sessions will be on the Alaska Rural Communications System. TV broadcasts will be 8:30 a.m.-noon and 2:30-4 p.m. Wednesday, and 8:30-10:30 a.m. and 1-5 p.m. Thursday.

Knowles has urged the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the general election ballot that would allow a rural preference for subsistence in times of shortage, aligning the state with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The House approved such an amendment during a special session in 1999, but the Senate fell two votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. That triggered federal management of subsistence fisheries on navigable waters running through or adjacent to federal land.

Knowles continues to believe a constitutional amendment is key to resolving the controversy, said spokesman King. "No other workable solution has emerged. That said, we remain open to other possibilities going into this summit."

Some people who have not been involved in the issue before are participating in the summit, King noted. "There is a fresh perspective being brought on this issue. Perhaps they could see some possibilities that have eluded others."

Somerville, the Juneau sportsman, said he has an open mind and is "cautiously optimistic." But he said the summit participants are "a pretty stacked group" in favor of the rural priority.

Murkowski, who might be asked to seek amendments to ANILCA, said Alaskans need to show unity first.

"Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning again and find out really what your differences are," he said. "Because there's a general recognition that if you live in rural Alaska and there's a shortage, you should have some kind of consideration. Maybe it's a 'local' preference, as opposed to a rural preference."

"There is not a single person in the Legislature that I've ever met in the 10 years this has been going on that does not believe we should be providing for subsistence. By that we mean sustenance," said state Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican.

"It isn't a matter of do you like Natives or don't you like Natives. ... Congress was using 'rural' as a subterfuge for 'Native.' ... Their subterfuge created a class of people. And that class of people is defined only by a federal panel that decides who is rural and who is not rural," Taylor said.

Taylor and some other senators who have opposed changing the constitution's guarantee of equal access to state resources say they won't switch.

Knowles won a 60-day extension from the U.S. Supreme Court on the deadline for appealing the subsistence-related Katie John case. The new Oct. 4 deadline gives him time to call a special session of the Legislature if he's encouraged by the outcome of the summit. In theory, that could set up a deal in which the Legislature agrees to the constitutional amendment if Knowles agrees to appeal.

But "I don't think the governor would call us back into special session if the numbers weren't there," said Rep. Reggie Joule, a Kotzebue Democrat who is chairman of the House Bush Caucus.

Knowles says he's not asking the subsistence summit for a recommendation on Katie John.


Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.

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