Fish and Game asks for an extension on subsistence inquiry

Commissioner says time allotted for program review is not sufficient

Posted: Monday, December 14, 2009

The state Department of Fish and Game asked the agency running a review of the Federal Subsistence Management Program in Alaska for two additional months for public comment.

The Secretary of the Interior announced a sweeping review of the subsistence program in October. The review is to focus on how the program is meeting the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act and how it serves rural subsistence users.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wants a clear plan to emerge from the review by early next year, according to Alaska Affairs Secretary Kim Elton.

State Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd wrote Elton with the extension request Dec. 4.

"Given the significance of this review to many Alaskans, we believe that providing little more than a month before the holidays is not sufficient," Lloyd said.

The Department of the Interior Web site to submit comments went online Nov. 12, leaving about 40 days until Christmas to comment.

Lloyd also said the agency is depending on the Internet and "ad hoc" meetings rather than holding traditional meetings to gather public input. He asked for a comment extension until the end of February.

"We're acting on the desire of the Secretary to do a relatively fast review," said Special Assistant Pat Pourchot, who is handling the review for the Department of the Interior in Alaska, "so I think we're going to proceed as fast and prudent as we can in that review."

While a firm deadline for comments has not been set they are "strongly encouraged" to be in by the end of the month to receive consideration, Pourchot said. He contacted hundreds of people during dozens of meetings so far and has not detected a problem with people not having enough time to comment, he said.

Lloyd said his staff has received numerous complaints from the public that there is not enough time to prepare comments.

The only way to move the issue forward is to be efficient, said state Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Chalkyitsik.

"They had years and years to deal with it and they chose not to deal with it," Salmon said.

Because of bitter legal disagreements over whether a rural subsistence preference should be allowed, subsistence issues have not been resolved in the state.

When Sen. Albert Kookesh was cited with three other men July 12 on a charge of over-fishing, subsistence was again brought the forefront.

Kookesh has pleaded not guilty and a trail is scheduled in Angoon District Court next month.

ANILCA, passed by Congress in 1980, mandates that rural residents of Alaska be given a priority for subsistence uses of fish and wildlife. In 1989, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that ANILCA's rural priority violated the Alaska Constitution.

As a result, the Federal government manages subsistence uses on Federal public lands and waters in Alaska - more than 60 percent of the land within the state.

The state's rural residents harvest about 22,000 tons of wild foods each year - an average of 375 pounds per person, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish makes up about 60 percent of the harvest.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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