ANCHORAGE Meeting the needs of urban subsistence hunters and fishermen is emerging as a key element in the search for a solution to the state's subsistence dilemma.
"There seems to be an innate sense that that's required, that there has to be some access for urban Alaskans," said Attorney General Bruce Botelho.
Botelho chaired a six-hour meeting Monday at the Egan Civic and Convention Center on how to word an amendment to the state constitution to resolve differences between state and federal subsistence laws.
Among the suggestions was an amendment that would grant rural residents first priority for subsistence hunting and fishing and allow the Legislature to create a tiered system for nonrural residents with a history of subsistence hunting and fishing.
"What's new here is there's a consensus emerging that we need to reach persons other than rural Alaskans," Botelho said.
Federal law requires rural residents be given a subsistence priority to fish and game on federal land. The state constitution grants all Alaskans equal access to the state's resources.
Because the state is not in compliance with federal law, the federal government has taken over management of subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands and waters.
The meeting Monday was called by Gov. Tony Knowles, to follow up on the conclusions of the governor's subsistence summit in August. Knowles charged the panel with drafting a constitutional amendment to protect the subsistence rights of rural Alaskans and allow the state to regain management of subsistence hunting and fishing.
The Legislature must approve any constitutional amendment before it can be sent to the voters. Alaska lawmakers have repeatedly rejected a constitutional amendment to create a rural preference for subsistence hunting.
A tiered priority system would not treat all Alaskans equally, said Dick Bishop, vice president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest sport hunting and fishing group. But Bishop took it as an encouraging sign that those drafting the amendment may consider the customary use of fish and game by urban Alaskans.
"If somebody in the group has acknowledged that there is a legitimate urban interest in qualifying for a subsistence priority then maybe I would say there is a small ray of light dawning," Bishop said from his home in Fairbanks. "The fact is there are people who live in nonrural areas who are as dependent on wild resources as some of those who live in rural areas."
In addition to non-Native urban hunters, a tiered subsistence priority could allow Natives who moved from villages to cities to return to rural areas for subsistence hunting and fishing.
Former attorney general Charlie Cole said such a tiered system could put more pressure on limited fish and game resources.
"I want to make sure that rural residents are in favor of urban people, both Native and non-Native, going back to rural Alaska and hunting for subsistence," he said.
The panel scheduled another meeting for Oct. 10 in Juneau.
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