Representation requested on federal panel for subsistence

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski wants a state representative on the federal subsistence board, a request opposed by groups like the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Murkowski made a request in July to Interior Secretary Gale Norton to appoint a state representative to the six-member panel. The board took up the issue during a meeting last week and will pass on its advice to Norton.

But the idea has gotten a cool reception from other participants that oversee those that rely on hunting, fishing and gathering on federal lands as a primary food source.

Nearly all the 10 regional advisory councils have opposed the request as did 10 other organizations. Most opposed to the request cite Alaska's long-standing inability to comply with federal subsistence law.

The Alaska Legislature has never agreed to put to voters a constitutional amendment that would bring state and federal law into agreement. As a result, the federal government regulates subsistence activities in about two-thirds of Alaska which is federal land.

In addition, opposition groups say inflating the state's authority in the process will reduce the power of the advisory councils.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, individual tribes and nonprofit agencies pointed out in written testimony that the regulations creating the subsistence board also provided a place for the state to participate, like other members of the public, in decisions without reserving a seat on the board.

John Littlefield, chairman of the Southeast Regional Advisory Council, said advisory councils have more power than the state since the federal board can overrule their decisions for only very specific reasons.

Giving the state equal power to councils is wrong and giving it more power is illegal, Littlefield said.

"I see (Murkowski's request) as further eroding the power of the regional advisory councils," Littlefield said.

The state's long-term objective is to return to full state control of fish and wildlife management including subsistence, said David Bedford, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Fish and Game.

"We understand that folks in the Native community have some concerns" about that prospect, Bedford said.

"We don't seek to restrict or limit subsistence use. But state law requires broader provision of those resources. We're looking for reducing unnecessary intrusion in non-subsistence uses," Bedford said.

That attitude is what scares many Natives about Murkowski's request for a seat on the subsistence board, said Heather Kendall Miller, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.

She told the board Wednesday that the state is "trying to dismantle" the subsistence program through efforts such as a recent request by Alaska legislators that non-subsistence users be named to the regional advisory councils.

She urged the board to oppose Murkowski's request. If the state wants a seat at the table, Kendall Miller said, "it should expend great effort to bring its laws into compliance with ANILCA."

The subsistence board was to meet in executive session Wednesday afternoon and submit its recommendation to the Secretary of Interior. It will not reveal its recommendation until the Secretary decides whether to honor Murkowski's request.

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