Ten years ago the state Legislature was the pivotal player in determining the future of subsistence hunting and fishing management in Alaska. Now, as the Department of the Interior begins a swift, thorough review of subsistence law on Alaska's federal lands, the state can only comment and say that it looks forward participating.
The state of Alaska isn't driving anymore.
The subsistence debate was often bitter and never resolved. At its heart was the conflict between federal law in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Act, which called for a rural subsistence preference to safeguard traditional Native culture, and state law, which allows for no preference based on place of residence -- law upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court when, in 1989, it struck down as unconstitutional a 1986 rural preference law.
In the 1990s the Alaska Legislature repeatedly tried and repeatedly failed to put a constitutional amendment allowing a rural preference on the ballot. Despite majorities in favor of such a preference, lawmakers never mustered the necessary three-fourths majorities required to put a constitutional amendment to Alaska voters.
Lawmakers knew what was coming. More than once, Sen. Ted Stevens spoke to state joint sessions and warned them that the federal government would permanently take over subsistence management on federal lands in Alaska -- more than 60 percent of our total. The feds weren't eager for the job. At Stevens' behest, the Interior Department several times extended deadlines for the state to act.
It never happened. Now the feds are here for keeps.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.