Federal subsistence rural designations in Alaska see revisions

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A few areas of the Kenai Peninsula are returning to rural status in the eyes of the federal subsistence management program, which could allow residents access to federally managed hunting and fishing opportunities.

Friday, the Federal Subsistence Board announced a change to the way rural vs. nonrural areas of Alaska are determined and the reversal of certain designations made in 2007.

In the past, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior determined rural status in Alaska and had to consider several factors — population, income and aggregation of communities — and the data was required to be reviewed every 10 years. The process was inefficient and didn’t take into account the vast differences between regions of Alaska, said Deborah Coble, subsistence outreach coordinator in Alaska, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It was so cumbersome on how to gather that data, which data to gather, and then, of course, the decennial review. So now the secretaries have allowed the Federal Subsistence Board to make the decisions for rural independently,” Coble said.

As of Friday, that process has been scrapped. The new criteria by which those determinations are made has yet to be written, but the process, by design, is more inclusive. Instead of determining which areas of the state qualify as rural, the Federal Subsistence Board will now determine which areas are not rural. Everything not determined nonrural will be considered rural, unless specifically decided otherwise.

On the Kenai Peninsula, Homer and its surrounding area — Anchor Point, Kachemak City and Fritz Creek — are designated nonrural. Kenai and its neighboring areas —Soldotna, Sterling, Nikiski, Salamatof, Kalifornsky, Kasilof and Clam Gulch — also are nonrural. The rural status of Ninilchik, Cooper Landing and Hope remains unchanged. But a few areas that were designated as nonrural in 2007 are returning to their rural status. On the central peninsula, an area to the north of Sterling is once again rural, and on the southern peninsula, the North Fork Road and Fritz Creek East areas are once again rural.

The new criteria is expected to be drafted by January, but regardless of those specifics, the process itself is expected to involve more local input than the previous method.

“The big deal on that one was that the board will more than likely give deference to the regional advisory councils, and the reason why that is important is because it will take into consideration the regional differences,” Coble said. “Like Southeast — what’s important to them and what works for them as far as customary and traditional use and subsistence hunting and fishing, is completely different from what they would use in the Seward Peninsula and North Slope. Whereas before it was just kind of a blanket deal, now they can break it down into the 10 different regions.”

Without seeing what the new criteria will entail, Coble can’t say whether the determining factors in rural vs. nonrural designations will be tailored to the unique characteristics of each region to the state, but she said it’s possible.

“The board is going to give deference to the regional advisory councils, the regional advisory councils seek information from the public within their region, and so each region could come up with something completely different. They’d push those recommendations to the board and what the board ultimately decides will happen in January,” she said.

The decision to return rural status to pre-2007 boundaries goes into effect Dec. 19, unless significant adverse comment is received by the comment deadline of Dec. 4. The decision to place rural vs. nonrural designations in the hands of the Federal Subsistence Board became effective Nov. 4.

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Filed under Ninilchik, salmon, subsistence

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