By Jenny Neyman
Management of fishing and hunting in Alaska involves a lot of counting — how many fish are caught or sheep are shot, how many days harvest is allowed, how many barbs are on a hook, how many tines on a rack of antlers. In 2010, the granddaddy count of them all — the U.S. census — will count people, not fish or wildlife, but could impact how many people are able to utilize expanded hunting and fishing opportunities in the state.
“It could go either way, and it’s not just fishing. It’s all subsistence hunting and fishing,” said Mike Crawford, chair of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Council.
Harvesting fish and game in the state of Alaska is subject to two spheres of regulation. State oversight comes through the Board of Fish and Board of Game regulatory processes with management by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The state’s emphasis is on management of resources for sustainable yield and upholding the state constitution’s mandate for equal access to resources by all Alaskans.
On federal lands and water within Alaska, such as national wildlife refuges and national parks, the harvest of fish and game is subject to an additional, federal layer of oversight and regulation, under the Federal Subsistence Management Program, with the Federal Subsistence Board and Regional Advisory Councils providing an avenue of input by the public (as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service regulating halibut harvest, and other federal agencies governing specific species). Federal management follows the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which requires that rural residents be given a priority for subsistence uses of fish and wildlife on federal public lands and waters.
The rural subsistence priority on federal lands in Alaska has been a source of much contention, debate and legal action since its inception.
In 1989 the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that ANILCA’s rural priority violated the Alaska Constitution. That decision limited the rural subsistence priority just to federal lands and waters within Alaska — about 60 percent of the land in Alaska, or 230 million acres — but did little to limit debate over the issue. As this decade’s census gets under way, it’s an opportunity for the decades-old debate to rekindle.
Making it count
In 1990, the Federal Subsistence Management Program started a review of Alaska communities to determine which were rural, and therefore entitled to a subsistence harvest priority on federal lands. Basically, everywhere in Alaska was designated as rural except for specific higher-population areas — including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Valdez, the Wasilla area and most of the Kenai Peninsula, excluding Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Hope and some areas outlying Homer.
Federal subsistence regulations require that communities’ rural/nonrural status be reviewed every 10 years, starting with 2000 U.S. census data and following with the 2010 census.
How those numbers come out could affect whether additional Kenai Peninsula communities are granted subsistence harvest rights, or whether currently entitled communities lose that priority.
Changes in the numbers of subsistence users on federal lands spark far-reaching debate over the methods and allocations of subsistence harvests, and the effect those may have on fish and wildlife stocks, state management efforts and the harvest opportunities of nonrural Alaska residents.
But it isn’t just the existence of the rural subsistence priority on federal lands fueling argument. How those rural/nonrural decisions are made has also been a sticking point.
“Probably one of the touchier points of ANILCA is they don’t give a definition of what a community is,” Crawford said. “I don’t live in Soldotna, but I’m not in Ninilchik, either. But the area that Ninilchik covers for subsistence use is larger than city limits. And I’m not trying to pick on Ninilchik, but where do you draw the line outside of a community? Where all of a sudden do you become rural? How do they decide that this trail or this road divides a community? So why is Ninilchik considered rural and Clam Gulch is considered part of the Soldotna community?” Continue reading