Agency: Alaska subsistence overhaul up to Congress

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The U.S. Interior Department has proposed adding two seats for rural Alaskans to the board that oversees hunting and fishing protections but has stopped short of the overhaul sought by some Alaska Natives, who want stronger, explicit rights.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the proposed change follows a yearlong review of the Federal Subsistence Board.

The department recommended expanding the six-member board and handing a greater role in rule-making to regional advisory councils.

It also recommended the working relationship between state and federal agencies, governed by a two-year-old written agreement, be reviewed.

The Interior Department declined to pursue requests that it try directly to strengthen subsistence rights under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Such direct action to redefine eligibility would properly fall to lawmakers, the department said, and the idea will "be forwarded to concerned congressional committees and members for possible consideration."

The act gives rural Alaskans, as the Interior Department puts it, priority for subsistence fishing and hunting on federal land. The federal government picked up management and oversight of that power after a 1989 court decision barred state management.

More than 100 groups weighed in during the review, according to the Interior Department.

Among them were the Alaska Federation of Natives, which is to convene in Fairbanks this month.

The federation asked that Natives' subsistence protections be strengthened by expanding "rural preference" standards to more explicitly protect Native and tribal peoples' right to hunt and fish on the federal lands covering most of Alaska's geography.

That preference would fulfill the promise of federal legislation and "be consistent with settled principles of federal Indian law followed elsewhere in the United States," said the federation's president, Julie Kitka, in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "It would also put an end to the otherwise endless litigation concerning the implementation of the current rural priority."

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