Feds to review subsistence

Interior secretary says Alaska management system is 'broken'

Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday the federal government will review subsistence management in Alaska.

Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News

"The system, frankly, today is broken," Salazar said during a taped speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives.

The department will review management policies and programs on federal lands to make them work more effectively to meet the needs of Native Alaskan communities, he said.

The recent citation of state Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, for subsistence fishing violations has brought new focus on the issue, which despite decades of debate remains unsettled.

Salazar's top advisor on Alaska issues, former state Sen. Kim Elton of Juneau, told the AFN Friday that they'd be listened to on the subsistence issue and reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to the mandate of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

"This policy will be informed by those who must live with it," he said. "It will be based on science and traditional knowledge."

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was glad the Department of the Interior would be reviewing subsistence and that Elton would be involved.

"Subsistence needs to be looked at, and Kim is the right person to have doing that," she said.

Elton also said Salazar would appoint a new head of the Federal Subsistence Board, which next meets in January.

ANILCA guarantees a "rural" preference for fish and game on the vast federal holdings in Alaska - more than 60 percent of the state. The law is in conflict with Alaska's constitution, which says fish, wildlife and water will be reserved for the common use of all Alaskans with no preference based on race or geography.

Hunters and anglers in Alaska communities designated as "urban" contend that a preference for Alaska's fish and wildlife should not be determined by where a person lives.

The Alaska Legislature has rejected proposals to place before voters a constitutional amendment that would grant a rural preference and win back state management of fish and game on all lands within the state.

Salazar said the federal government began managing the subsistence priority nearly two decades ago and that it was time to look at what has happened and what must be done to meet the federal law's obligations.

Elton, who was appointed the Interior Department senior adviser for Alaska affairs earlier this year, said subsistence is critical to sustaining both the physical and spiritual culture of Native Alaskans. The review will consider leadership and budget issues, he said.

"A fundamental premise will be that we can no longer expect the state to regain subsistence management on federal lands," he said. "We are here to stay, so we have the obligation to provide the best management system that we possibly can."

Elton said Salazar wants a clear subsistence plan by early next year. The revamped subsistence management plan will use decisions based on science and traditional knowledge, an understanding of subsistence, and a commitment to the promise made in federal law that subsistence will not be compromised or relegated to a low priority status.

AFN Executive Director Julie Kitka welcomed the full federal review as well, and was pleased it would be done quickly.

"We have high hopes for the Obama administration," she said.

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