Federal Regulations Updated to Determine Subsistence Practices
Saxman redesignated as “rural”
October 31, 2015
“The Obama Administration is fully committed to protecting the subsistence rights of rural Alaskans. We are working hard to make the process both more transparent and more flexible so it best meets the needs of these communities,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor. “This update will enable the Federal Subsistence Board, with input from Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils, federally recognized tribes, and the general public, to use more flexible criteria in the rural determination process that more accurately reflect life in Alaska.”
In a prepared statement U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “I am pleased that the Federal Subsistence Board is publishing a new regulation that reverses their unfounded and inappropriate conclusion that the federal subsistence protections afforded to rural residents of Alaska does not apply to the Organized Village of Saxman. I cannot understand why it has taken the federal government eight years to reverse this erroneous decision.”
Murkowski said, “When the federal government arbitrarily redesignates an Alaska community as non-rural it does not just affect the community’s hunting and fishing privileges; it is an attack on the identity, the culture, and the fabric of the community itself.”
This change in regulation comes months after Murkowski introduced the Subsistence Access Management Act (SAcsMan Act), which legislatively restore Saxman’s rural status and require congressional consent for any further re-designation of an Alaskan community from rural to non-rural.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the updated regulation now provides the Federal Subsistence Board more flexibility in making rural determinations by removing absolute numeric criteria and taking into account regional differences found throughout the state. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar initiated a review in 2009 conducted with extensive comments from Alaskans, subsistence hunters and fishermen, tribes, and agencies. The review found that areas with strong rural characteristics adjacent to nonrural communities were denied a subsistence preference by being declared nonrural under the existing regulations.
“This is an important step in realizing a subsistence priority that has been denied to deserving areas of the state, allowing rural Alaskans to put food on the table and practice cultural traditions dating back thousands of years,” said Tim Towarak, chair of the Federal Subsistence Board.
Along with the broader rural determination process rule, the Interior and Agriculture Departments also announced a direct final Nonrural List rule, which revises the list of nonrural areas in Alaska. Accordingly, the community of Saxman and the area of Prudhoe Bay will be removed from the nonrural list, thus reinstating a subsistence preference for this community and area. The following areas continue to be nonrural, but their boundaries will return to their pre-2007 borders: the Kenai area; the Wasilla/Palmer area; the Homer area and the Ketchikan area.
Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA), the federal government asserted a priority for subsistence hunting and fishing for rural Alaskans on federal public lands in Alaska in 1991, and later public federal waters in 1997, after a 1989 State of Alaska Supreme Court decision invalidated the state’s subsistence preference for rural Alaskans.
On October 23, 2009, Secretary Salazar announced the initiation of a Departmental review of the Federal Subsistence Management Program in Alaska. The review focused on whether the program met the purposes and subsistence provisions under ANILCA, and whether the program served rural subsistence users as envisioned when it began in the early 1990s.
On August 31, 2010, Secretary Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the findings of the review, which included several proposed administrative and regulatory reviews and revisions to strengthen the program and make it more responsive to rural Alaskans who rely on subsistence activities in their daily lives.
Public comments can be submitted on the direct final rule nonrural list until December 2, 2015. The rural determination process becomes effective on November 2, 2015.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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